In­dian Navy’s quest for

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & News -

Dan Gil­lian, Boe­ing Vice Pres­i­dent, F/A-18 and EA-18 pro­grammes, writes on the Su­per Hor­net in con­text of the In­dian Navy’s re­quire­ment for a car­rier borne fighter and elab­o­rates on key fea­tures of the Block III Su­per Hor­net.

As the In­dian Navy con­tin­ues its on­go­ing progress to­wards be­com­ing a blue-wa­ter navy, it will need a car­rier borne fighter fleet that is not only mo­bile but also easy to main­tain with low op­er­a­tional costs. The fu­ture naval car­rier borne fighter will also need to be com­pat­i­ble with cur­rent and up­com­ing air­craft car­ri­ers of the In­dian Navy.

At­tributes of a Fu­ture Car­rier Air Wing

The im­por­tance of car­rier avi­a­tion can­not be un­der­stated – in par­tic­u­lar for a coun­try like In­dia with a large coast­line cov­er­ing more than half its borders. The In­dian Air Force is fo­cused on pro­tect­ing the north and east, but with coast­lines cov­er­ing much of In­dia’s south, and west, the need for a strong car­rier air wing is ob­vions.

Mo­bil­ity is key for both the cur­rent and fu­ture fighters, which is likely to grow only more com­plex in this re­gion.

The car­rier air wing of to­day and to­mor­row has be­come a mo­bile net­work that houses air­craft that can serve as ex­tended nodes on an in­te­grated net­work. The fu­ture fight is about who is best net­worked to gather and share the in­tel­li­gence to carry out the most ef­fec­tive mis­sion quickly, ef­fi­ciently, and ef­fec­tively.

The fu­ture car­rier air wing will need to do it all: find–tar­get–track–en­gage–and as­sess in a ki­netic and non-ki­netic man­ner.

As such, when I think about next gen­er­a­tion car­rier air­craft that op­er­ate off US or In­dian Navy car­ri­ers, I think about two key at­tributes: “net­worked and sur­viv­able.”

The next gen­er­a­tion of air­craft, will need to con­nect into a net­work, plug­ging into an in­for­ma­tion stream shared across its fleet. This means in­te­grated and var­ied sen­sors, large com­put­ers, big data net­works, and ad­vanced dis­plays to help air­crew man­age all of the avail­able In­for­ma­tion.

Sur­viv­abil­ity is of­ten con­fused with stealth, but stealth is just one el­e­ment. Next gen­er­a­tion air­craft will need to bal­ance stealth with lethal­ity. Fu­ture fights will re­quire in­creased mag­a­zine depth and so­phis­ti­cated air- to- air sen­sors to deal with ad­vanced

threats. Sur­viv­abil­ity means that fu­ture fighters need to have in­creased range to push the threat fur­ther away.

An­other as­pect of sur­viv­abil­ity is re­li­a­bil­ity, es­pe­cially in a ship­board en­vi­ron­ment. Car­rier air­craft need to be tough, easy to launch, easy to land, and easy to main­tain. This is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant at a time when de­ploy­ments are longer and far­ther away than ever be­fore. Ease of main­te­nance will only be­come more im­por­tant as sen­sors and sys­tems con­tinue to grow in so­phis­ti­ca­tion and com­plex­ity.

With multi-role ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies with room to grow and low ac­qui­si­tion and sus­tain­ment costs, the Boe­ing F/ A- 18 Su­per Hor­net is most suit­able for In­dia. With de­signed-in stealth, an AESA radar and many other ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies that are re­quired for mis­sion re­quire­ments of the naval avi­a­tor, the F/A18 Su­per Hor­net is the most ad­vanced air­craft of its kind in op­er­a­tion to­day and will pro­vide op­er­a­tional ben­e­fits to the ex­ist­ing and fu­ture force struc­ture of the In­dian armed forces.

Evo­lu­tion of the Su­per Hor­net

Boe­ing’s Su­per Hor­net of­fers the best of those at­tributes: it is com­bat proven, but de­fined to meet the US Navy’s flight plan so that it con­tin­ues to evolve to out­pace fu­ture threats. The Su­per Hor­net will re­main on US Navy car­rier decks well into the 2040s – be­ing three-fourths of the Navy’s strike fighter ca­pac­ity into the 2030s and no less than half the car­ri­ers strik­ing force into the 2040s.

On 23 May 2017, the Pres­i­dent of the United States sent his 2018 fis­cal year bud­get to Congress, and in­cluded in that bud­get was a re­quire­ment for 80 Su­per Hor­nets over the next 5 years to ad­dress its strike fighter short­fall. Also in that bud­get re­quest was fund­ing for Block 3 ca­pa­bil­i­ties to en­sure the air wing has the ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to win in the 2020s and be­yond.

The next gen­er­a­tion of Su­per Hor­net air­craft comes into the US Navy and po­ten­tially in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers to ful­fil its role as the next-gen air­plane in a com­ple­men­tary way with the F-35. Those two air­craft are go­ing to work to­gether on the car­rier decks for the US Navy, well into the 2040s.

That gives Boe­ing great op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue the pro­gramme, which is evo­lu­tion­ary ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment from a risk per­spec­tive of low risk change that de­liv­ers rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­for­mance. We are ex­cited to be build­ing air­planes at a cur­rent pro­duc­tion rate based on the US Navy de­mand and some other in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers, which takes us into the 2020s. Boe­ing’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion rate is two per month but have built and can build up to four air­craft per month.

In­tro­duced in 2007, the F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net Block II is the world’s pre­em­i­nent car­rier ca­pa­ble air­craft. The F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net was de­signed for car­rier op­er­a­tions and is the world’s pre­em­i­nent car­rier ca­pa­ble air­craft, is com­bat proven, su­per­sonic, an all weather mul­ti­role fighter with a de­fined US Navy flight plan to out­pace threats into the 2040s.

The Su­per Hor­net’s ben­e­fits of be­ing a twin- en­gine air­craft help pro­vide the warfighter a mar­gin of safety that does not

ex­ist in a sin­gle-en­gine plat­form. A sin­gleengine air­craft can be lost ow­ing to en­gine mal­func­tions or loss of thrust while a twinengine plat­form can lose an en­gine and still safely re­turn to base–or car­rier.

The Su­per Hor­net has a buddy re­fu­el­ing ca­pa­bil­ity that can ex­tend time on sta­tion, range, and en­durance. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Su­per Hor­net can pro­vide sus­tained air sup­port through its Ac­tive Elec­tron­i­cally Scanned Ar­ray (AESA) radar tar­get­ing data and re­li­able data links.

The Su­per Hor­net is com­pat­i­ble with the In­dian Navy’s air­craft car­ri­ers. Ex­ten­sive sim­u­la­tion has shown that the Su­per Hor­net is ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing STOBAR op­er­a­tions with a mean­ing­ful weapons and fuel load.

Ease of main­te­nance

The F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net not only has a low ac­qui­si­tion cost, but costs less per flight hour to op­er­ate than any other tac­ti­cal air­craft in the US in­ven­tory. Part of its af­ford­abil­ity is be­cause the Su­per Hor­net is de­signed to need far less main­te­nance; which trans­lates into high mis­sion avail­abil­ity. Ease of main­te­nance ( sup­port­a­bil­ity) re­sults in lower main­te­nance man-hours per flight hour.

Im­por­tantly the Su­per Hor­net does not re­quire any sched­uled de­pot- level main­te­nance and the en­gine does not re­quire any sched­uled main­te­nance be­tween over­hauls.

In any case, Boe­ing’s ac­tive pro­duc­tion line and ro­bust sup­ply chain al­low the com­pany to of­fer the most af­ford­able plat­form. Hav­ing low cost of op­er­a­tion, low main­te­nance re­quire­ments and twin-en­gine based sur­viv­abil­ity, al­lows the Su­per Hor­net to op­er­ate in harsh en­vi­ron­ments.

The F/A-18 (Block III)

The Su­per Hor­net is a plat­form that is con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing to out­pace fu­ture threats. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery two years, Boe­ing and its in­dus­try part­ners along with the US Navy have been de­liv­er­ing new ca­pa­bil­i­ties

An F/A-18E ready to launch from a US Navy Nimitz-class car­rier (photo: US Navy)

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