The F/A-18 is in service with the US Navy, which uses it from its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers

Two Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters are undergoing trials at the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa in Goa to showcase their compatibility and suitability to operate from Indian aircraft carriers.

The aircraft landed in Goa last week for tests from a mock-up of the ski jump platform of the kind that Indian aircraft carriers have.

The first photos of the fighters, undergoing testing since 23 May, have emerged on Twitter.

The fighters are likely to remain in Goa up to the first week of June.

Indian Navy’s Fighter Requirement

The F/A-18 is in service with the US Navy, which uses it from its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Unlike India's two carriers, which use ski-jump (short take-off but arrested recovery or STOBAR) to help aircraft take off from their decks, US carriers use catapult-assisted take-off (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery or CATOBAR).

To be considered by the Indian Navy as a replacement for its MiG-29K fleet, the fighter will have to demonstrate the ability to take off in the STOBAR setting. The Super Hornet has already demonstrated the capability, Boeing says. An F/A-18 fighter took off using a ski-jump platform constructed at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland in August 2020.

Rafale-M, the other fighter in the race for the Indian Navy deal, has already undergone testing at the shore-based facility at INS Hansa earlier this year.

Unsatisfied with the performance of its MiG-29Ks, the Indian Navy has expressed interest in buying new fighters for its carriers. Moreover, with the induction of Vikrant on 15 August this year (2022), the Indian Navy will have two aircraft carriers but not enough fighters to keep both warships operational, experts have pointed out.

In 2017, the navy had said it would buy 57 new fighters for its air arm. However, the number has now been cut to 36 because India is developing its own deck-based fighter aircraft — Twin-Engine Carrier-Based Deck Fighter or TEDBF — and due to financial constraints.

Boeing's Bid

The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block-III, Boeing says, will give the Indian Navy unique and differentiated capability in the form of an advanced, combat-proven, multi-role naval fighter that is fully compatible with the Indian Navy carriers. Making a strong pitch for F/A-18, vice president of Boeing's India Business Development Alain Garcia has said the aircraft has been specifically designed from its inception for carrier operations and will meet the performance requirements of the Indian Navy.

"This has been proven by our successful ski-jump tests conducted in 2020 and extensive simulation studies. Additionally, we will also prove that further with operational demonstrations in India in May and June," Garcia told the Press Trust of India in an interview in April.

“The Block-III Super Hornet comes with advanced networking and open architecture design that allow it to work jointly with the Indian Navy’s P-8I and other US-origin assets and rapidly accept new technology to stay ahead of emerging threats,” he added.

"With the latest Block-III configuration, the Super Hornet is suited to protect India's maritime interests, and we anticipate the Super Hornet and P-8I will open up opportunities for greater interoperability between the two navies for a secure Indo-Pacific," Garcia said.

“And lastly, the Super Hornet has an affordable acquisition cost and also costs less per flight hour to operate than any other tactical aircraft in the US forces inventory, including single engine fighters. This is possible because the fighter is designed for ease of maintainability and offers impressive durability,” he told PTI.

Maria Laine, vice president of Boeing’s International Business Development, said that India is one of Boeing’s enduring partners where “we have made strategic investments and will continue to do so in the future”. The company has 3,500 employees in India and more than 7,000 people working with its supply chain partners.

“We’ve made the latest investment outside of India in Boeing’s India Engineering and Technology Centre at USD 200 million and have a wholly-owned engineering and technology campus with future avionics manufacturing and assembly capability that is coming up in Bengaluru,” Laine told PTI.

“Over 275 Indian suppliers deliver components, parts and complex assemblies for Boeing’s commercial and defence aircraft, including the F/A-18, F-15, P-8, Apache, Chinook, C-17 and T-7,” she said.

TATA Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), the joint venture between Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems, has been producing aero-structures for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter and recently delivered its 140th AH-64 Apache fuselage from its 14,000 square metres state-of-the-art facility in Hyderabad.

TBAL is also manufacturing 737 Vertical Fin structures, a complex structural part, on a new production line will utilize cutting-edge robotics and automation, said the Boeing official.

“On the defence side, we are delivering services that ensure high availability of our customers’ fleets at competitive costs. We work with the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy to provide operational capability and readiness for Boeing aircraft,” Laine said.