It Is now sufficiently clear that the Indian Navy wants to be able to use the air force’s assets of war. In a revelation so far kept under wraps, the Navy has asked Boeing a contender for India’s $10-billion tender for 126 air force fighters if the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet can operate off the INS Vikramaditya, the rechristened Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov currently being refurbished in Russia for the Indian Navy. None of the fighters in the IAF’s existing fleet have the capability to operate from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Boeing’s campaign manager for the Indian deal Michael E. Rietz has revealed that after detailed simulations conducted at the company’s test centres, the Super Hornet on offer to India, can in fact operate off the Gorshkov. The significance of Boeing’s finding lies in the fact that the Super Hornet – which by default is launched using a steam-powered catapult on American super-carriers – has never before been known to be able to take off from an angled ski-jump – the launch mechanism on India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Virat, as well as the Gorshkov and the under-construction indigenous aircraft carrier.
Rietz told HT at Lemoore, which holds half of the US Navy’s striking power in the Pacific, “In our simulation, we discovered that not only could the Super Hornet take-off from a ski-jump, but could do so with a significant weapons load.” Landing the Super Hornet on the Gorshkov would pose no problem since the warship comes equipped with an arrester cable. The 16 MiG-29K fighters that will come with the Gorshkov will land using this “trap” method.
A typical scenario illustrates the import of the newly identified ability. A Super Hornet flying with the air force from a shore base can fly hundreds of kilometres over the sea, then land on an aircraft carrier, refuel and proceed onward. The reach advantage it would give the aircraft is something the air force has only envisaged with mid-air refuellers so far. Aircraft carriers, by their very nature, can obviously stay out at sea for far longer.
In 2004, the Navy had sent out a request for information to another American firm Northrop Grumman about whether the latter’s carrier-based airborne early warning and control aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye, could operate off the Gorshkov. However, plans to procure the aircraft in a ship-based role have since