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Aero India 2021: Naval fighters prove their mettle
There are many suitors in the ongoing Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) competition to supply the Indian Navy (IN) with 57 carrier-based fighter aircraft.
Contenders include Boeing (F/A-18E/F Block III), Dassault (Rafale M), Saab (Sea Gripen), the Russian MiG-29K and the Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) from India, which was shown as a model at Aero India in Bengaluru on 3-5 February.
In simulations at the show, Dassault and Boeing each showcased the capability of their respective aircraft to operate with INS Vikramaditya and the future INS Vikrant.
Serious intent has been shown by Boeing, which pledged to meet all MRCBF requirements if the F/A-18E/F is chosen. While the Super Hornet has been catapulting off the decks of USN aircraft carriers since 1999, the IN requires a Short Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) method.
Boeing and the USN recently concluded ‘ski jump’ trials (pictured) to demonstrate how the F/A-18E/F could operate from IN carrier flight decks. ‘This will help validate the past studies conducted by us on the ability of F/A-18 to operate effectively from the ski jump,’ said Ankur Kanaglekar, head of Indian fighter sales at Boeing.
The trials involved a Super Hornet with sensors installed to measure the increased strain of STOBAR operations. Depending on test objectives, several jumps with different aircraft configurations took place. Each jump was carefully scrutinised by the joint Boeing and USN test team before attempting the next take-off.
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Boeing believes that the vast volume of data gathered will help refine modelling and simulation studies.
‘We used a buildup test approach, starting with very conservative conditions and gradually working up to heavier take-off weights and shorter take-off distances,’ said Kangalekar.
The Super Hornet Block III is being offered to the IN in both F/A-18E single-seater and F/A-18F two-seater configurations. Kanaglekar said it can ‘act as a lynchpin of naval aviation collaboration between the USN and IN, improve interoperability and commonality between the two navies and boost opportunities for collaboration in variety of areas related to naval aviation’.
He added: ‘It can interface with P-8I [maritime patrol] aircraft and other assets of US origin, to act as a force multiplier for IN.’
As the ‘Make in India’ contender for MRCBF, the TEDBF is proposed as a replacement for IN MiG-29Ks and would predominantly be equipped with indigenous weapons.
With a total length of 16.3m, an unfolded wingspan of 11.2m and folded wings of 7.6m, TEDBF has a service ceiling of 60,000ft.
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