Being able to operate from a STOBAR carrier is a key requirement for the Indian Navy, which presently only has the one carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, which is in the configuration. A second STOBAR-configured flattop, the future INS Vikrant, and indigenous design, is also under construction.
The Indian government has expressed interest in acquiring a catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carrier in the past. Last year it emerged that BAE Systems had proposed a design based on the U.K. Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class. The HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship the HMS Prince of Wales are both short-take off and vertical landing (STOVL) types with ski jumps, but no arresting system. It’s not clear whether the ship that BAE pitched to the Indians is STOBAR or CATOBAR derivative. There were CATOBAR variants of the Queen Elizabeth design among the initial proposals to the Royal Navy.
What is clear is that the Indians have plans to expand their carrier fleets, which would also require additional carrier-based aircraft. Proving that the Super Hornet, which is already CATOBAR capable, is also able to fly from STOBAR carriers could give it an advantage in the competition as India would not necessarily need to acquire multiple types to operate from different types of carriers in the future. The MiG-29K, for instance, cannot fly from CATOBAR carriers, for instance.
The Super Hornet, in its latest advanced Block III configuration, which you can read more about in detail in this past War Zone piece, is also in the running for a separate Indian Air Force fighter jet mega-contract, which is looking to acquire 126 new fighters for that service. A deal with the Indian Navy could further tip the scales toward the F/A-18E/F due to the cost benefits that India could realize from logistics, infrastructure, and supply chain commonality.
Whatever happens, it will very exciting to learn more about how the Super Hornet has been faring in these ski jump tests at Patuxent River.
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