F/A-18 fighter is IAF’s best bet: US NavyMay 9th, 2008 - 10:40 am ICT by admin
By Vishnu Makhijani
Lemoore Naval Air Station (California), May 9 (IANS) The race for a $10 billion Indian order for 126 fighters just got hotter with the US Navy enthusiastically batting for the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, saying it was best suited for an Indian Air Force (IAF) requirement for a multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA). Such was the spirit with which UN Navy pilots put the jet through its paces at this sprawling air base in central California that it left no doubt it was making a strong pitch for the fighter that it assisted Boeing in developing.
“The F/A-18 has delivered on all that it promised to do - and more. We are sure it will do the same for you,” Captain Hal Murdoch, commander of the Strike Fighter Wing of the US Pacific Fleet, told a group of visiting Indian journalists here Thursday.
He spoke after pilots of the US Navy’s VFA 122 “Screaming Eagles” squadron performed a series of intricate manoeuvres in the sky and displayed the quick reaction ability of the F/A-18 to get airborne after a threat was detected.
“Your air force operates the (Sukhoi) SU-30 and this is a formidable aircraft. Without meaning any disrespect, I submit to you that the F/A-18 is ahead in its ability to manoeuvre,” added Commander Greg Harris, the squadron’s commanding officer.
Harris first flew on the Super Hornet as a navigator during the first Gulf War. He thereafter trained as a pilot and has flown the aircraft on three tours of duty in the ongoing US-led operations in Iraq.
The F/A-18 is one of the six jets in the fray for the IAF order, which is likely to go up to 200 aircraft. The bids submitted by the six manufacturers were submitted last week and these will now be evaluated over the next three years before the winner is selected.
The US Lockheed Martin F-16, the French Rafale, the Swedish Grippen, the Russian MiG-23 and the Eurofighter Typhoon that is manufactured by a four-nation European conglomerate are the other aircraft in the fray.
Harris was very forthcoming in response to a question on the advantages the F/A-18 enjoyed over the F-16.
“For one, the Super Hornet is a twin-engine aircraft against the single engine of the competitor. This increases its survivability factor over the F-16,” he pointed out.
“Besides, the extensive use of composite materials makes the Super Hornet corrosion resistant and gives it a long structural life.
This apart, the Super Hornet’s cutting-edge technology AESA (advanced electronically scanned array) radar that enables it to seamlessly switch to an AWACS (airborne warning and control system) mode even while flying a combat mission gave it a distinct advantage over all its rivals.
“The F-16 does have an AESA-type radar but not of the capability of the Super Hornet,” Harris maintained.
“The US Navy’s support to the Super Hornet has been demonstrated successfully and can be tailored specifically for India,” he added.
Should the Super Hornet be selected, Harris said, the initial batch of IAF pilots and technicians would be trained on the US Navy’s simulators at Lemoore and brought up to levels that would enable them train their colleagues in India.
“This training would be jointly conducted by Boeing and the US Navy and the cost of this had been factored into the tender that had been submitted by the manufacturer in response to the IAF’s request for proposal,” Harris added.
He also pointed to the safety record of the Super Hornet, saying that only four crashes had occurred during the half a million hours the aircraft had flown since it entered service in 2001.
“These crashes involved two mid-air collisions with human error as the cause. There has been no mechanical failure so far that has resulted in a crash,” he added.
The IAF desperately needs new aircraft to replace it fast depleting fleet of Soviet-era MiG jets of various variants, principally the MiG-21. This has seen IAF force levels plummeting to an alarming 30 squadrons from a peak of 39 1/2 - against a sanctioned strength of 45 squadrons.
At one time, it was thought that the indigenously developed Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) would fill the void. However, time and cost overruns in this project had prompted the IAF to issue a request for information (RFI) in 2003 for the MRCAs.
The Tejas is likely to be inducted into squadron service only around 2012 - around the time the MRCAs that win the IAF order are likely to start arriving. At the same time, there are indications that the IAF is not too happy with the Tejas and may induct only two squadrons of the aircraft.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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