Sunday, July 05, 2009

MMRCA Part 5 - The American Turbo Bug

The F/A-18E/F/IN Super Hornet is a little gem of an aircraft, except it's hardly little. It's 30% heavier than the legacy Hornet, and its designation was only kept the same to ease the pushing through of the idea to US Congress. In a sense, the Hornet is better known than the F-16 during the Cold War era. It was aircraft carriers stacked to the hilt with Hornets that prowled international waters for decades (and continue to do so with both Hornet and Super Hornets). Many say the Super Hornet is a completely new aircraft, which should have been given a new designation number and a new name, considering just what a different aircraft it is. But the IAF recognises that, not least because Boeing's Super Hornet has also been among the most visible aircraft in the sweepstakes:


It was Boeing, remember, that changed the entire complexion of the MMRCA, by "elbowing" (a phrase used by the IAF, but not with acrimony) itself into what was to be a competition for a medium-weight, medium-range fighterplane. It was also Boeing which virtually pulled the rug from under the other contenders by being the first to express its intention to supply an active electronically-scalled array (AESA) radar with its contender -- the highly respected Raytheon APG-79 radar. It was only after the IAF began doggedly pursuing information on the Raytheon radar and export licensing information that the other five contenders jumped onto the bandwagon and began either offering AESA radars, or publicising them in a more emphatic manner. The IAF recognises that unwaveringly, but still gives Boeing credit for changing the game. Among the six competing radars, the IAF has also been most exposed to the capabilities of the APG-79 that comes with the Super Hornet, in simulators and live flights. One IAF pilot who took the front seat in a Super Hornet at Aero India 2007 said he found the airplane's digital flight control system (FCS) to be possibly the most mature and intelligent in the world on a fourth generation aircraft. Many in the IAF are of the opinion that alleviation of pilot workload is something that has been achieved in a dramatic way in the Super Hornet -- its cockpit, one pilot says, is the very definition of convenience, automation and ergonomics. The AN/ASQ-228 advanced targeting forward looking infrared (ATFLIR) targeting pod is considered on par, if not better, than Lockheed-Martin's equivalent on the F-16IN. A lot of folks thought the fact that the Super Hornet is a naval fighter would be a downer, but no -- it has actually translated into its acceptance as a far more rugged, quick reaction fighter, which the Super Hornet undoubtedly is. In demonstration flight debriefs, the IAF has been careful to note that the airplane's short take-off capability with near full combat load is undeniable, as are its handling characteristics at low altitude with the same load. The Super Hornet comes backed by a firm that the government of India has a lot of experience dealing with. The fact that ahead of the F-35C, the US Navy's air arm is being standardised across roles on the Super Hornet platform is a source of great reassurance, for its reputation as the Navy's next "swiss-army knife". Being fairly battle proven despite its freshness off the block is a good thing too.


The Super Hornet is in approximately the same weight class as the Su-30, and is, in every way, a heavy hitter, with all the attendant cross-section and logistics issues. The IAF has expressed apprehensions about the Super Hornet's logistics footprint (and its overall impact on ownership costs), though these have been discussed only internally -- they will be taken up during the foreign leg of the field evaluation tests (FETs). The Super Hornet is a rugged, beast of an airplane no doubt, but there remains a substantial quarter in the IAF which is still hung on the apprehension that it is, ultimately, a maritime strike fighter. "Let's face it. The development of the Super Hornet was with the US Navy in mind. The exports to other country's air forces are simply bonuses. It is a maritime strike fighter, with a maritime role development history behind it. Fielding it as an air force jet is borne from commercial considerations. Both Boeing and Lockheed are trying to maximise profits from the F-18/F-16 production lines before they have to shut shop for the F-35," says one senior IAF pilot, who does not fly anymore. The Indian government has opened its Boeing IDS account with the P-8I Poseidon deal -- the government may be wary of laying it on too thick with one vendor.

Top Photo Copyright US Navy

Tomorrow: Part 6 - The Typhoon Truth (Series concludes)

See Also:
Part 1 - The Super Viper
Part 2 - The Swedish Underdog
Part 3 - The Future Fulcrum

Part 4 - The American Turbo Bug


Anonymous said...

The "Super" Hornet is more like a Super Slug, this jet has badly evolved from the Hornet : it is a reject.

And the tot will be minimal with American jets.

Nikhil said...


A advantage of F/A-18 IN that you haven't mentioned is that Boeing has confirmed that India's newest aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorkshov) would be capable of launching the aircraft. Boeing conducted extensive simulations of the scenario and came out with the assessment. In my opinion, it would give India a significant strategic capability through the Indian Navy.
Could you comment on whether the indigenous IAC-1 being built at CSL, Cochin would have the capability to support this bird? I know its a longshot.


AK said...

The problem with SuperBug is it's similarity with Su30MKI that we already have. Choosing a plane just because it has an AESA (a very good one at that) will be unwise decision.Just think about the logistical nightmare IAF will have to face. IAF already has a circus to manage and to get one more joker into it will be unwise. With FA18 IAF will probably be the only air force in the world that operates planes from almost all the continents. Basically US is selling it's junk to India before it moves to the F-35.

Anonymous said...

The F-18 is a pure bomb truck plain and simple. It would boost India inadequate A2G forces. Mig-27's and Jaguars won't cut it against Chinese SAM sites. Plus its a proven aircraft. Also India would have the option for the Growler Lite. Its also one of the cheapest aircraft in the competition at 50+ million. The Super Hornet would allow the Su-30MKI to focus on the Air-superiority role instead of having to do A2G duties aswell

Payeng said...

@ Nikhil: procuring Navy aircraft is totally a different process that that of Air force, don't expect the MRCA to have any effect on IN's aircraft procurement, that's totally a different game.

@ Shiv: Among advantages you explained that it can take off in a very short distance with a full weapon load, but I think that is because of catapult assist, can it do the same without a catapult?

Shiv Aroor said...

tarmac T/O.

Navir said...

you've completely missed the 'flapping wings' and 'pylons facing outward' band-aid fixes that that the aircraft is known for. Do you have any information on these, or on the IAF's views on the loss of aerodynamic performance?

Anonymous said...

Most important is that US itself will replace F-18 with more advance F-35 JSF (Both Air and Maritime operations).
So why to purchase the US F-18?
Boeing F-18 continuous improvement till 2040 is doubtfull.

Anonymous said...

where is the lca update
is the under posted all that u had to post

Anonymous said...

SH is in the weight class of Mig-29 and not Su-30. it is said to have the best RCS reduction for any fourth gen fighter, some argue even better than EF. It is the most advanced, integrated, cost effective and readily available solution. Additional features like thrust vectoring and perhaps F-15 like add on stealth weapon bays can be asked for. If anything can go against it, its the cumbersome US process of tech transfer. Rest assured SH is a winner.

Anonymous said...

> The F-18 is a pure bomb truck plain and simple.

which explains why the USN relies solely on it for fleet defense

and why it has a couple F-22 'kills'

> but I think that is because of catapult assist, can it do the same without a catapult?

boeing has confirmed it can take off from the ski-jump on the Gorshkov with a 'substantial' payload

> Most important is that US itself will replace F-18 with more advance F-35 JSF (Both Air and Maritime operations).

the F-35C is replacing the legacy hornet, not the SH

even after F-35 procurement has completed in the 2030s, the SH and F-35 are expected to serve side-by-side until the SH wears out and is replaced by the next generation and/or ucav

with SHs still being procured for a few more years, you can expect a long and fruitful service in the USN

Anonymous said...

those who say f18e is bomb truck so are other fighters huh...

f18e can fly from groky but if we have to buy f18e than its better buy rafale

for carrier operations a fighter has to be small cuz it occupies less space and light enough to manouver it easily,

rafale is smaller,lighter for carrier operations and equally capable in carrying paylaod compred to f18e

Anonymous said...

Out of all, my vote goes to Super Hornet... MiG and Rafale are also good though

Anonymous said...

In spite of the talk about JSF as a possible replacement for Super Hornet, demand and popularity of F/A-18 seems to be increasing. Going by an international report, Super Hornet is competing for orders as Brazil, Denmark, and Greece and not to forget India look to strengthen their air power. Other countries, including Japan, Qatar, Kuwait and Canada, also have expressed interest in the Super Hornet.

Drawing a parallel: The three-way contest for Brazilian Air Force order - with same set of competitors as MMRCA - is now between the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale and Saab's JAS 39 Gripen. Will a similar thing happen in India? Only time will tell !!

Anonymous said...

This aircraft is righly called SubPar Hornet. Yes, it has brilliant AESA radar, but then you can fit AESA radar into different airframes as well.

SubPar Hornet is not built for the role IAF needs filling. Mig 35 and Gripen MKI are better suited.

Anonymous said...

SubPar Hornet is not built for the role IAF needs filling. Mig 35 and Gripen MKI are better suited.
A lot of people talk about how expensive the Rafale and EF are but how much money will it cost to MKIize the Mig-35 or the Gripen. The Mig-35 doesn't even have most of the avionics describe installed and tested. India would have to wait longer for the Mig-35 to arrive than most of the other aircraft. Not to mention the money INDIA would have to pay for the integration of the avionics, ECM, and indigenous weapons.

Anonymous said...

Hey there! Sorry to go off topic, but today I saw a C-130 over HAL airport bangalore. Can anyone else confirm this? Initially I thought it might be one of the HS-748s which they usually test over there, but then I saw the trademark tire 'bulge' on both sides. Could it be the C-130Js which we'd ordered?

Anonymous said...

The Mig-35 doesn't even have most of the avionics describe installed and tested
go and wash your face with chilled water and then think again

Anonymous said...

Guys this deal is a bit political if india gets US aircrafts that means a death blow to both pakis and chinese;which means we wil get US tech in future who knows in future we may even get f-35!. This deal wil increase indo-us ties. moreover india has never been exposed US aircraft manufacturing techs. In that way f18 is the one for MRCA.

Anonymous said...

to anon at 12:24 PM

whats special in f35 which carry only 4 bvr in internal bays,no supercruise,everyone wants f22

pak fa going to be cheaper and better than f35

anthony said...

The Superbug may be an OK choice for the Indian Air Force if it wants to diversify its fighter fleet, what about its overall performance.

Surely they would want a lighter fighter with less wing loading but sufficiently advanced avionics.

NJS said...

The radar seems to be superior (APG-79 radar) next best to F-22's Radar.
Its not clear F-18 IN version is offered with Nuclear capable & AIM 120D BVR AAm .we need to have edge with china/pak in AAm , only AIM 120D will give the edge as per F-18 E/F IN . India should go in Fastrack in MMRCA

Abhijeet Singh said...

well first it is very unlikely that USA will offer their latest technology ...and then there are so many obligations and many end user buying american weapon is being on a slipery surface...if we buy weapons from them and not support then in international politics they may withdraw their support and possibly not even supple spare parts or upgrades