NAVAL AVIATION / F/A-18
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is more than a marine fighter capable of operating from the Indian Navy’s current and future aircraft carriers. The F/A-18 Super Hornet can also operate as a land-based fighter and can be configured as an airborne tanker, providing the Indian Navy with even more flexibility in its ever-evolving carrier concept of operations.
|Daniel Paul, |
Program Manager & Director, F/A-18 Program, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems
The highly versatile F/A-18 is an advanced strike fighter – with the ability to modernise any country’s air or naval forces. Based on Northrop’s YF-17 “Cobra” selected in the 1970’s by the US Navy for joint development by Northrop and Boeing into a carrier-based strike fighter, the F/A-18, designed to meet a requirement for a multi-role fighter to complement another Northrop Grumman aircraft, the F-14 Tomcat. The F/A-18 was the world’s first aircraft specifically designed with the capability to quickly and easily switch from air-to-air dogfighting “Fighter” missions to air-to-ground “Attack” missions, hence the designation “F/A.”
As the “Principal Subcontractor” on the F/A-18 series, Northrop Grumman plays a major role in designing and producing the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet Block III, the US Navy’s frontline carrier-based strike fighter. As part of the Boeing-led Hornet Industry Team (HIT), Northrop Grumman produces the F/A-18 Center/Aft fuselage with vertical tails and integrates and tests all associated subsystems in the completed fuselage “shipset” Northrop Grumman also produces the Centerline Pylon assembly. Subsystems in the completed shipset include Hydraulics, Fuel, Environmental Control System (ECS), Fire Detection & Extinguishing, Bleed Air Lead Detection, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), antennas, wiring, and lights. Once a shipset is complete, it is sent to Boeing for mission system integration and final assembly into a finished aircraft. Since the F/A-18 programme began in the 1970s, the company has delivered more than 2,359 fuselage shipsets - every one of them on time, on weight, and on cost. The US Navy has recognised the F/A-18 programme as a model acquisition programme.
The Super Hornet was designed initially for carrier operations. However, it is more than a marine fighter. The F/A-18 Super Hornet can also operate as a land-based fighter, as evident in other countries air forces, such as Finland, Switzerland, Spain, and Kuwait, which operate the F/A-18 Super Hornet from land-based facilities. Recently, the Super Hornet proved its capability and suitability for the STOBAR (Short Takeoff But Arrested Recovery) performance requirements set by the Indian Navy and is fully compliant with INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant aircraft carriers. More importantly, the F/A-18 is already capable in the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Takeoff But Arrested Recovery) environment, as it uses the catapult system today with the US Navy. This capability will provide flexibility for the Indian Navy as they design their future IAC-2 carrier. The F/A-18 will be able to operate on the deck, in the hangar and on the lifts of the Indian Navy’s current and future aircraft carriers. As an aircraft designed from day one with the carrier environment in mind, it will provide the Indian Navy with a robust platform for their carriers to launch and recover with the required ordnance and mission systems mandated by evolving threat systems. Additionally, the Super Hornet can be configured as an airborne tanker, providing the Indian Navy with even more flexibility in its ever-evolving carrier concept of operations.
According to Boeing, while the original F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet share some similarities, such as their designation and shape, the similarities stop there as the F/A-18 Super Hornet is an entirely different aircraft. Being almost 30 per cent larger than the original Hornet, the F/A-18 Super Hornet contains much more advanced avionics. It has evolved to its latest version, the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III. The nextgeneration Block III Super Hornet is Boeing’s most advanced Super Hornet ever built. In addition to the increased service life to 10,000 flight hours includes enhanced network capability and an advanced cockpit system with a touchscreen Large Area Display. For example, the Super Hornet Block III on offer to the Indian Navy will come with an advanced network architecture that will provide opportunities to interface seamlessly with other US-origin assets, including the Indian Navy’s P-8Is. This interoperability benefit will have the F/A-18 Super Hornet act as a force multiplier for the Indian Navy and increase the type of missions they can execute. These signature improvements enable more battle space awareness and better warfighting capability.
The room for growth to meet the demands of future missions already exists with the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Boeing and the US Navy completed a series of manned-unmanned teaming flight tests in which a Block III Super Hornet successfully demonstrated command and control of three unmanned aerial vehicles.
The room for growth to meet the demands of future missions already exists with the F/A-18 Super Hornet. This year, Boeing and the US Navy completed a series of manned-unmanned teaming flight tests in which a Block III Super Hornet successfully demonstrated command and control of three unmanned aerial vehicles. This test is evidence that the Block III Super Hornet is executing on its guarantee of hardware, already installed on the fighter, and is ready to receive the software of the future. This capability guarantees that the Block III Super Hornet will integrate thirdparty systems and software with minimal modifications to meet future demands, further proving its suitability for the different hardware used by the Indian Navy.
Given carrier operations’ harsh and demanding environment, twin engines ensure safe operations over the open sea, wilderness, and hostile environments. The F/A-18 Super Hornet, powered by the GE F-414 engine, has clocked more than five million hours. The Super Hornet uses the same family of engines that power India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, which the Indian Air Force has already inducted. This similarity of engines offers the Indian Navy the most economical path to access newer technologies compared to any other competitor. Due to the massive scale of the Super Hornets in operation worldwide, the cost of incorporating newly developed technologies will be very competitive.
To meet India’s “Self-reliant” initiatives, Boeing’s ‘For India - By India’ sustainment programme builds on the company’s nearly eight decades of history in the country, leveraging existing programmes, growing supply chain capabilities, and partnering with the local industry. Because of that, the Super Hornets will be sustained in India, in partnership with the Indian Navy and India and US-based partners throughout the aircraft’s lifecycle. This India sustainment approach will further enable its growth, lower risk, and develop advanced expertise in maintenance, resulting in higher aircraft availability and a competitive price for the Indian Navy.
Northrop Grumman strongly supports India’s initiatives and is currently engaged with several Indian companies to develop a comprehensive indigenous support ecosystem for structural and subsystem components within the Northrop Grumman F/A-18 scope of work as the principal subcontractor of Boeing Space and Defense. The company intends to establish an aircraft post-delivery Operating and Support (O&S) Field-level maintenance capability in India. O&S would include indigenous support and services associated with the Northrop Grumman workshare of the F/A-18.
To further collaboration, Northrop Grumman has signed a Letter of Interest with a manufacturing company that may lead to a sustainment agreement to support the company’s workshare for India Navy F/A-18. As an acting in-country representative, this would potentially include handson technical maintenance, installation, inspection, and analysis of structural and mission-critical components, collaboration with Indian industry partners and the Hornet Industry Team, as well as other activities to support and sustain requirements.
Northrop Grumman is committed to defining possible in the air with innovative manned and unmanned air systems to ensure the defence of freedom for the US and allied countries like India worldwide. The battleground of the future is still being defined, but the lines between unmanned and manned aircraft are becoming intertwined as governments look to bolster national and global security.
Manned aircraft like the F/A-18 continue to be a critical asset for the US and India. Paired with capabilities such as autonomous aircraft solutions, surveillance, and command and control capabilities, these collaborative systems will be indispensable for the future missions of tomorrow. Northrop Grumman has been a trailblazer in the development of manned solutions since the 1930s and continues to build some of the world’s most advanced aircraft in aeronautics to meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers worldwide.