Boeing trials ski jump launches of Super Hornet for Indian Navy

Boeing Super Hornet launches from US Aircraft Carrier.

In an effort to win a contract from Indian Navy, Boeing has been flying an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet off a ground-based ski jump at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

This is part of a demonstration effort for the Indian Navy to show that the aircraft can operate from short take-off but arrested recovery configured (STOBAR) aircraft carriers, such as the INS Vikramaditya and the future INS Vikrant

“Boeing and the US Navy are in the beginning phases of operating an F/A-18 Super Hornet from a ski jump at Naval Air Station Patuxent River to demonstrate it is STOBAR compliant for the Indian Navy,” Justin Gibson, a Boeing spokesperson said.

“Boeing completed extensive analysis and more than 150 flight simulations on F/A-18 compatibility with Indian aircraft carriers, and while our assessment has shown the Block III Super Hornet is very capable of launching off a ski jump, this is the next step in demonstrating that capability.”

India is in the midst of an unprecedented arms buildup, as it clashes with China over its Himalayan border in the Ladakh region. However, the military procurement process in India is fraught with bureaucratic red tape, making it almost impossible to get anything done.

The company had previously announced plans to begin this ski jump flight test program in February. It had first disclosed that it was doing simulation work on the Super Hornet’s ability to operate from a STOBAR carrier in 2017. 

Ski jumps generally increase the takeoff performance of combat jets in the absence of catapults and also provide an added margin of safety.

F/A-18 Hornet is taking off from ground-based STOBAR platform

Since at least 2016, the Indian Navy has acquired a fleet of at least 45 MiG-29K Fulcrums under the Multi-Role Carrier-Borne Fighter (MRCBF) program. There have been numerous reports over the years that the Indians have been disappointed in the performance of their navalized Fulcrums. 

The Super Hornet is now competing against the MiG-29K, as well as the naval version of the French-made Dassault Rafale and a variant of the Swedish Gripen. The Indian Air Force notably took delivery of the first of its land-based Rafale variants last month.

The Indian Navy had also previously rejected plans for a carrier-based version of the domestically designed Tejas, with complaints that the design was overweight, though the development of that aircraft has continued, since then. In January, the prototype landed on and took off from the INS Vikramaditya for the first time.

INS Vikrant is undergoing sea trial.

Boeing in fact is looking for a partnership with Indian manufacturers Mahindra and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to present a proposal under the Make in India initiative, The National Interest reported. 

“HAL has built airplanes for years and Mahindra too has manufacturing knowhow,” said Dan Gillian, Boeing’s program manager for the F/A-18.

“We are talking about creating a next-generation facility in India. We think the Super Hornet is the most advanced airplane that India could manufacture,” Gillian explained.

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