Boeing delivers next-Gen F/A-18 jet to US. Same offered to India

IDD Update

The first plane of the latest version of the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, labelled as ‘Block III’ has been delivered to the US Navy. These are the same planes the US aerospace giant is offering to India for its aircraft carrier based operations.

US Navy has contracted 78 of the F/A-18 Block III jets which give the Navy the most networked and survivable F/A-18 built with a technology insertion plan that will outpace future threats.

Boeing announced the delivery to the US Navy on September 27 and quoted Capt. Jason Denney, U.S. Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager as having said “Getting the first operational Block III in our hands is a great step forward in supporting our capability and readiness goals.”

A General Atomics Drone

What is the new technology

Block III’s new adjunct processor translates to a fighter that will do more work and in far less time increasing a pilot’s situational awareness. The jet is ready to receive apps-based solutions that will allow upgrades to the aircraft throughout its life span.

“We invested in Block III technology and developed the capabilities in partnership with the U.S. Navy to meet its emerging requirements.”

Jen Tebo, Boeing Vice President of F/A-18 and EA-18G programs.

The hardware upgrades are complete. Today we are maximizing the open hardware and software and developing the apps to keep Block III ahead of future threats. We are giving Navy pilots the tools to make the fastest and most informed decisions possible now and in the future, Tebo said.

Boeing will continue to deliver Block III capabilities to the Navy through the mid-2030s from its three manufacturing lines. One new build production, and two service life modification lines extending the life and eventually upgrading Block II Super Hornets to Block III. The first aircraft delivered will complete the U.S. Navy flight test program before deploying to a squadron.

The Indian demand

India is looking for 57 aircraft for the Indian Navy with the intended use as day-and-night capable, all-weather, multi-role, deck-based combat aircraft which can be used for air defence, air-to-surface operations, buddy refuelling, reconnaissance, etc, from Indian navy aircraft carriers.  In January 2018, The Indian Navy issued a global Request for Information (RFI). It had sought 57 deck-based fighters for an estimated cost of about Rs 95,000 crores (USD 9.5 Billion).

Besides the Boeing the Rafale-M remain the main competitor in the race.

A graphic explaining the jet for India. Source Boeing website

Boeing announced its plans from providing the ‘Block III’ at the Def-Expo-2020 in February 2020 at Lucknow in India.  Thomas Breckenridge, Vice President, International Sales at Boeing Strike, Surveillance & Mobility had said “We offer the new plane to have an air frame life  of 10,000 hours”. Read the full report here

The jet comes in two variants F/A-18E a single-seat version while the F/A-18F is a tandem-seat version. India is looking for both

Boeing has already completed extensive analysis and testing of F/A-18 Super Hornet’s compatibility with Indian carriers that use ski-jump for STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery) operations.  “Results show that the Super Hornet is capable of launching off a ski-jump carrier and could be operated from Indian carriers with a meaningful fuel and weapons load”, the Boeing India website says.

US carriers use  the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take off but Arrested Recovery)  method for operations and the Boeing F/A-18 was designed for same.

In December last year Boeing announced that it had tested the working of of the F/A-18  from a ski-jump. Read it here. 

A Boeing F/A-18 doing a ski jump on a shore based facility to mimic the ski jump take off from Indian carriers

Indian Navy, at present uses the Russian made MiG 29 K jets on board the aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, also the jets would be used onboard the INS Vikrant,  which is under construction and did its first sea trials in August 2021. Both carriers have a ‘ski jump’ take off.

The F/A-18 could anchor of US-India naval aviation cooperation. The Indian Navy has 12  of the P-8I in its fleet and six more on order. The IAF uses  the Apache AH-64E multi-role combat helicopters and the Chinook CH- 47F (I) heavy lift, tandem rotor helicopter besides the C-17 heavy lift plane.

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