‘The F-15EX is a future-ready and multi-role solution’

New Delhi: With the Indian Air Force (IAF) looking to spend a massive Rs 1.3 lakh crore to buy 114 combat aircraft in the near future, all major players in the aviation sector have been reaching out to IAF with their products including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rafale and Gripen and others.

In an exclusive conversation with The Sunday Guardian, Ankur Kanaglekar, the Head of India-Fighters Sales-Boeing Defence, Space and Security, spoke on why the assets being offered by Boeing to IAF are among the best. According to him, the company has already shared detailed data with the IAF on the advanced fighter jet F-15EX through government-to-government channels. Excerpts:

Q: How serious a player does Boeing consider itself for the 114 combat aircraft that Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to acquire in the near future and why?

A: Boeing has been working with India’s defence forces for many years, supporting their mission-readiness and modernization objectives. Our portfolio of products and services offer unmatched operational capabilities across the entire mission spectrum. Today, we are honoured to support India in its operations of 11 C-17s, 22 AH-64 Apaches (with six more on order), 15 CH-47 Chinooks, and nine P-8Is (with three more on order), and the future looks promising.

Boeing recently received the license to market the F-15EX to the Indian Air Force (IAF) from the US government. This allows us to have conversations directly with the IAF on F-15EX’s unique capabilities. Detailed data on F-15EX has already been shared with the IAF through government-to-government channels. We look forward to working with IAF on their detailed requirements.

The very fact that an advanced fighter such as F-15EX, which is currently being procured by USAF, has been allowed to be marketed to India, indicates the US government’s commitment to F-15EX, highlighting confidence on its superior capability.

Q: Which fighter aircraft is Boeing marketing to the Indian government? And how does it suit Indian needs? Especially in the present scenario where the country is engaged both at its Eastern and Western borders?

A: We are engaging with the Indian Navy on their requirements and have responded to the RFI for the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) program. The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III is the best-in-class fighter in its category and will offer the Indian Navy several unique and differentiated capabilities. The Indian Navy stands to benefit from the multi-billion dollar investments made towards new technologies in the Super Hornet by the US Navy and international customers. This includes advanced network technology, long-range detection with Infrared Search & Track, enhanced situational awareness with a new Advanced Cockpit System, improved signature reduction and a 10,000+ hour life.

The Super Hornet also offers flexibility and the best utilization of precious air assets through carrier-compatible two-seater variants (F-Variant) and single seater (E-Variant) for the Indian Navy. The two-seat variant (F/A-18F) shares the same mission scope as a single seat (F/A-18E) while allowing for carrier-capable training and the ability to fly advanced missions from the carrier that benefit from a second crew on-board. Most importantly, carrier-based naval aviation technologies related to manned-unmanned interface can also be effectively operationalized with a two-seater carrier compatible version. We see F/A-18 Super Hornet offering unmatched commonality and interoperability benefits to the Indian Navy and the US Navy. This will allow the two navies to enhance collaboration in various areas related to naval aviation.

Additionally, the US Government recently approved our license to market the F-15EX to India. The F-15EX is a future-ready, multi-role solution in the form of unmatched payload, performance, and persistence by integrating leading edge technologies, networks, weapons and sensors. F-15EX can operate from high-altitude airfields and can carry large payload, farther than any other fighter of the same class. The Indian Air Force has information regarding F-15EX as per the RFI released for the MRFA program. We look forward to working with IAF on their detailed requirements of the Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) program.

Q: Lockheed Martin has offered to shift the production of the F-16 line from the United States to India. Is Boeing ready to offer something similar?

A: The requirements related to manufacturing of a fighter aircraft in India as it relates to IAF’s MRFA program are not finalized yet. Boeing has a unique Public-Private-Partnership with HAL and Mahindra. And we continue to work with them in refining our localization strategies. As the requirements for IAF’s MRFA competition are finalized, we, with our partners, will decide on the way forward.

Our manufacturing strategy for IAF’s MRFA program will build on extensive investments that we have been making in India in skilling, manufacturing, innovation and technology. Today, more than 250 suppliers in India are integrated in Boeing’s global supply chain. More than $1 billion worth of products and services are sourced from Indian suppliers that go into Boeing aircraft.

Q: Experts believe that the assets being offered by Boeing’s competitors to IAF are much more advanced, less bulkier than anything being offered by Boeing. How would you like to address this statement?

A: We are excited to offer the entire spectrum of capability to IAF. In July 2020, U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a ceiling value of nearly $23 billion. The contract includes option for up to 200 jets, with the USAF projecting to buy at least 144 F-15EX aircraft. The same advanced F-15EX which USAF is contracted to buy is being offered to India (with India unique configuration). There are only two fighter aircraft USAF is buying today and one of these two is F-15EX.

More than $5 billion investment has been made by USAF and other international air force and has resulted into infusion of several next-gen technologies. The key technologies include world’s fastest mission computer, advanced radar with computing power higher than any other aircraft in US inventory, network-centric open mission system that offers sensor fusion, new cockpit display system for unmatched situational awareness, the new digital Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing (JHMC) System that offers faster digital processing package and most contemporary and “India-Unique” Electronic Warfare system.

Couple these technologies with the performance of F-15EX and you get a defence system that is unmatched in every sense. F-15EX flies faster, longer, higher and carries more payload than any other aircraft in the same class. It can fly at Mach 2.5, has maximum ceiling of 60,000 ft., can withstand 9Gs and has weapons carrying capacity is 13T (29,500 lbs). Also to note is that the F-15 was never defeated in air-to-air combat where agility is highly important. F-15EX has kill ratio of 104 kills to zero losses.

Q: Finally, the pricing. How would Boeing convince Indian taxpayers and their representatives that going for a Boeing fighter aircraft is the best deal?

A: If we were to talk about the Indian Navy’s requirement, the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block-III has the ability to offer superior economics to the Indian Navy. The aircraft not only offers a low acquisition cost, but also costs less to operate per hour of operation compared to any other tactical fighter in the U.S. Forces inventory. This is not surprising since the maintenance needs for the platform are well understood owing to its substantial fleet size and the fact that the aircraft is designed for ease of maintainability. Around 80% of the value of the aircraft lies in the sustainment of the platform. As a result, we see Indian Navy benefiting from the low cost of operation and upgrades, throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft compared to any other naval fighter.

As part of Boeing’s “for India, by India” sustainment philosophy, the Block-III Super Hornets can be potentially serviced in partnership with the IN, U.S. Navy and industrial partners from India and the U.S. throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft. This will further develop advanced expertise in the Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul (MRO) in India, resulting in higher availability of the aircraft at competitive pricing.

Boeing has proven breadth and depth of experience in sustaining military aircraft for the Indian Navy and IAF in the country by utilizing local talent and expertise. We look forward to the requirements from the Indian Navy related to sustainment.