- Feels F/A-18 is just right for both Indian Navy & IAF
- First Apache flies for the first time
By Sangeeta Saxena
Farnborough. 19 July 2018. Gene Cunningham, Vice President, Global Sales for Defense, Space & Security (BDS) Boeing started his round table for Indian media at Farnborough Air Show 2018 with actually a bang. He broke the news that the first Apache for India flew for the first time on 16th of July 2018. The delivery is all set for 2019. And it has been quick considering that Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), a joint venture between Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. inaugurated its state-of-the-art facility in Hyderabad on 1st of March 2018 and on 1st of June 2018 precisely two months after the facility delivered the first AH-64 Apache combat helicopter fuselage.
The fuselage, which has been delivered ahead of the scheduled time was transported to the US aviation major’s AH-64 Apache manufacturing facility in Mesa (Arizona) for integration into the final assembly line. And within one and a half month the first chopper flies for the first time. This was good news indeed for military aviation in India.
Cunningham was optimistic about Boeings partnership with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS) for manufacturing the F/A-18 Super Hornet in India for its armed forces and pursuing the joint development of future technologies. “ We are very happy with the way the partnership is progressing. It will enable us to optimize the full potential of India’s public and private sector to deliver next-generation F/A-18 fighter capabilities. Together we will be able to deliver an affordable, combat-proven fighter platform for India,” he said. It may be recalled that the US aviation major had announced this partnership at the DefExpo at Chennai in India in April.
“We have responded to the Indian Navy’s RFI requirement for 57 naval fighters, to be executed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is just the best carrier-capable multi-role aircraft and will be a great asset to the Indian Navy. Super Hornet is ahead of its competitors because of its affordability, survivability, built-in stealth, smarter weapons and being combat proven. Also there is no retirement age for F/A-18. Ask the US Navy, ” he said.
He also added that F/A-18 is the classic example of advancing of technology and how best to manage the process of change. “ We have done it for the US Navy which has identified the requirement for the F-18 and will extend production into the 2030s. All Block II F/A18s will be put through a remanufacturing line in St. Louis to get upgraded to Block III configuration. There will be material and structural changes to the air frame in this life extension programme. This will extend the flight hours of the aircraft carrier-based fighter to 9,000 hours. This is an 18-months Service Life Modification (SLM) program,” Gene explained.
Cunningham was happy with the C-17 and P-8I operations and stressed that the F/A-18 would be just the choice Indian Air Force (IAF) needed in its inventory. Boeing has pitched it’s F/A-18 and is one of the six global manufacturers to have responded to India’s tender for 110 fighter aircraft, commonly referred to as MMRCA-II by the Indian media. The preliminary tender or Request for Information (RFI) was floated in April this year for buying 18-20 single and double engine jets off the shelf from the selected vendor and rest to be built in India under the strategic partnership programme. The proposed contract may cross the ten-billion dollar mark. “We have the technical know how, the partnership with HAL & Mahindra in which we have full confidence and our belief in Make-in-India. And above all a proven aircraft in FA-18, which will be just the choice for Indian Air Force’s needs,” said Cunningham.
He also said that Boeing had a major interest in the air-to-air refuelling need of the IAF and added that KC-46 was just the right refueller to fulfil India’s needs.
Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security business had a backlog of $50 billion with thirty six percent for non-U.S. customers over the next 10 years . Cunningham said, “We see the international sales number growing to somewhere in the 40 percent range, but we also see the company growing. And India is very much a market we pin our hopes on. ”