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

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