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F-18 fighter is IAF's best bet: US Navy

May 09, 2008

"Awesome, outstanding�" is how US Navy's flight instructor Lt Scott Koch described his modern all-weather flying machine, Boeing's F-18, which is being offered to the IAF as part of its global tender for 126 multi-role combat fighters worth Rs 42,000 crore.

Look what IAF is shopping for

Koch, 31, who has 300 hours of experience in flying the F-18 E/F equipped with the new-generation Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, swore by its 'detection credibility'.

"I can see everyone... even a cruise missile," said the fighter pilot who was earlier flying the F-14 fighter aircraft that has less powerful APG 73 radar.

"It makes me feel very safe," he quipped about the big difference between flying a fighter with AESA radar, as compared to one without it.

Decks cleared for purchase of 126 fighter jets

And it is not just Koch who raves about the F-18 E/F (the version with AESA radar) in Lemoore.

"This is the best that the IAF can get. This is the best that the US Navy is using," said Commander Hal C Murdock, who controls half of the air combat striking power of the US Navy from Lemoore.

"I am confident that the Boeing's F-18s will shine through (the selection process of IAF)," said Murdock.

"The F-18 E/F can provide a significant leg up to any air force that flies it," said Murdock, who cites its AESA radar-driven information capability and helmet-mounted cueing system as the key to its air-to-air strike power.

Buy our Hornets & get cutting-edge radar

"The fighter can be used in a wide range of areas and its automated systems make it easy to use. It has a low cost of operation and is maintenance-free," he said.

Murdock hoped the IAF would to pick F-18 E/F over other competitors who have filed the RFP with the IAF for 126 aircraft. "The plane has a readiness alert of just over two minutes and requires a very short runway to do so," he said, highlighting its unique features.

The US Navy pilot, responsible for providing F-18 Super Hornets ready for tasking, said the Australians are the only ones in the world who have got the AESA radar-fitted version of the fighter plane.

"We are preparing to train Australian pilots over 37 weeks, starting December. May be, the IAF pilots would be next," he said, while hoping that the fourth largest air force decides to buy F-18s as part of its global tender.

Amidst talk that the IAF has started evaluating Boeing's RFP in connection with the global tender, the ace US Navy aviator said the cost of maintaining F-18s through their life time was the lowest at $7,000 per flight hour.

Earlier, showcasing the automated maintenance facilities for F-18s at Lemoore, Mike Gonzalas, head of Naval Aviation Technical Training, said there is a 95-day capsule for training electric technicians.

"We have trained technicians from Kuwait and Switzerland [Images]. The Australians would be coming next month," he said, adding that he would look forward to IAF technicians coming to Lemoore, if F-18 E/F join their fleet.

The Boeing and the US Navy are jointly trying to woo the IAF and sell the F-18 E/F combat aircraft to it. The IAF issued a RPF to six vendors in August last year to procure 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCAs) at an estimated cost of Rs 42,000 crore.

Besides Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet, others in competition are F-16s of the Lockheed Martin, Eurofighter Typhoon, MiG-35 of Russian Aircraft Corporation, Rafel of French firm Dassault and Gripen JAS-39 of Sweden's SAAB.

Image: An F-18 Super Hornet fighter lands at Clark international airport in Angeles, a former US military airbase to participate in a joint miltary exercise.
Reportage: Rahul Chhabra/PTI | Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

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