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F-18s to fly over Bangalore today

Ravi Sharma

BANGALORE: Boeing Integrated Defence System’s F/A-18 Hornet, one of the U.S. Navy’s frontline air platforms will take to the skies over Bangalore from Saturday. The all-weather, carrier-capable multirole fighter, which is designed to attack both ground and aerial targets, is one of the six contenders for a $10-billion contract to deliver to the Indian Air Force 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA).

Two F/A-18s — one single-seater and the other twin-seater — will take part in the MMRCA flight evaluation trials (FET) starting August 17. Bangalore has been chosen the venue for the evaluation under normal climatic conditions.

Official sources told The Hindu that there would be a full-scale briefing for the Boeing team by the Indian MMRCA team on Saturday on the aspects of evaluation and flight and ground tests that are to be undertaken.

The IAF’s test pilots on the Indian Evaluation Team — Group Captain Dixit and Wing Commander Chauhan — will also get to fly and experience first hand the American fighter’s flying characteristics.

The team also has three flight test engineers, and representatives from the Defence Ministry, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the Defence and Research Development Organisation, the Directorate-General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance and the Air Headquarters.

Besides the F/A-18s, the contenders in the race for the ‘mother of all Indian defence deals’ are the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company’s Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, Russia’s Mikoyan MiG-35, Sweden’s Gripen JAS-39 and the French Dassault’s Rafale.

Following the F/A-18s into Bangalore for the flight trials will be the F-16s, which Lockheed Martin are flying in from the United Arab Emirates (the only air force whose F-16s are equipped with active electronically scanned array radars). The French Rafale is scheduled to be in Bangalore from September 21, while the MiG-35 will arrive in October. In November, the Indian evaluation teams will emplane for Germany and Sweden to familiarise themselves with the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Gripen JAS-39. Both fighters are expected in Bangalore next February and March.

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