F-18 offer to India details
The US State Department's announcement on March 25 that the F/A-18E Super Hornet Block 2 was being offered for licensed-production to fulfil the
Indian Air Force's requirement for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) worth US$9 billion ....
Due to the sheer numbers of Super Hornets (700+) to be produced for the US Navy, US Marine Corps and export customers, the per unit cost of the
F/A-18E works out to some US$40 million, much less than what Dassault Aviation is reportedly charging for the single-engined Mirage 2000-5 Mk2.
Now to the US offer in detail. What the Bush administration is proposing is the off-the-shelf supply of 26 Super Hornets within 42 months of contract
signature followed by the licensed-production of 100 more units from 2010 through to 2020. In addition, the US Navy as lead contractor under the
Foreign Military Sales programme will reconfigure an entire existing IAF Base Repair Depot (BRD) to undertake the intermediate-level maintenance of
the Super Hornet fleet, similar to what the IAF's Nasik-based 11 BRD does for the MiG and Sukhoi family of combat aircraft. In terms of direct and
indirect industrial offsets, the sky is the limit and depends on how much India 's aerospace industry can absorb. The US, after all, has successfully
implemented such offsets programmes throughout Europe and Scandinavia since the early 1990s, with most of them being valued at more than 150 per cent
of contract value — a feat yet to be matched by any European, Scandinavian or Russian aerospace company.
Another factor to be noted is that the Super Hornet, featuring an open-architecture avionics suite, was designed with 17 cubic feet of ‘growth
space' for electronic systems — avionics and associated wiring. This means that the aircraft can easily incorporate India-developed avionics like
mission computers, IFF transponders, display processors and communications radios (which the US State Department has indicated it will allow — a
privilege currently accorded only to US-origin combat aircraft destined for Israel and the UK ). Also, when newer technologies are available, they can
be added to continually update the Super Hornet's war-fighting capability and survivability.
The F/A-18E Super Hornet Block 2, currently being produced by a consortium of US companies, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, General Electric,
Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, is not only an all-weather MRCA that performs fighter escort, fleet air defence, force projection, interdiction, and
close air support; it has been optimised for operating within the 21st century network-centric warfare battlespace, and is the only Western MRCA
that can neutralise the beyond-visual-range air warfare threats posed by MRCAs like the Chinese Su-30MKKs and Su-30MK2s.
interdiction radius is 1,300km, and it has 11 weapon stations to carry a full range of guided and unguided armaments weighing a total of 18,900lb
The aircraft's power-plant comprises twin General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans, each providing 22,000lb thrust with afterburning. The Block 2 Super
Hornet also comes equipped with Boeing's Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, and Raytheon's AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR precision targeting pod and SHARP
multi-function reconnaissance pod. For air dominance operations, the F/A-18E's Raytheon-built APG-79 active electronically scanned array fire-control
radar uses a ‘search-while-track' methodology that significantly improves the track quality of multiple airborne targets, and offers very
high-resolution ground-mapping. Along with the F/A-18E, the Bush administration is also now mulling the sale of at least two B.737-800-based airborne
early warning and control systems (operating from shore-based air bases) to the Indian Navy, which has now rejected Northrop Grumman's offer of
supplying six E-2C Hawkeye 2000 AEW systems due to the latter's limited endurance.