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Indian Navy keen to buy newer generation aircraft (Updated)

By Gulshan R Luthra Published : December 2009

New Delhi. The Indian Navy has floated a Request for Information (RFI) for a newer generation of aircraft which can operate from the two indigenous aircraft carriers it will commission over the next 10 years.


Ministry of Defence and industry sources indicate that the RFI, issued recently, is of a “generic’ nature, looking for newer platforms and airborne technologies and what is on offer from some of the well-known manufacturers. That is, there is no planned induction at the moment.

Among others, the RFI has been issued to the US Boeing for Super Hornet F/A 18, to BAE Systems for Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault for Rafale, Rosoboronexport for newer Russian Mig or Sukhoi shipboard fighters

The number of newer generaion aircraft is yet to be decided, but these will be in addition to the 45 Mig 29Ks the Navy is buying from Russia, 16 of which were ordered in 2004 along with Admiral Gorshkov.

The order for an additional 29 Mig 29Ks is being processed and is likely to placed shortly after price negotiations and delivery schedule are worked out.

There should be no delay from Russia on the supply of the Mig 29K, a modernized naval variant of the Mig 29 operational with the Indian Air Force (IAF) although it has delayed the delivery of Gorshkov by four years and is also demanding an extra $ 1.2 billion over and above the contract price of $ 974 million. The old carrier was given free and this price was for repairing and refurbishing the carrier, damaged in an onboard fire accident.

The Super Hornet, a successor of the earlier Hornet, was introduced in 1998 for the US Navy while Rafale, a successor of the old Mirage 2005, has both air force and naval versions already operational. Both these aircraft are also competing for the nearly 200 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) requirement of the Indian Air Force.

BAE Systems’s spokesman Guy Douglas said that the company had “provided information to, and are continuing in discussions with, the Indian Navy regarding navalised Eurofighter Typhoon.”

Eurofighter Vice President and Head of India Campaign Directorate Dr Matthias Schmidlin told India Strategic that his company would bid for the Indian Navy’s requirement whenever invited. He observed that Eurofighter is the only aircraft among the six contenders for the IAF order which will have true thrust vectoring capability in the coming years to facilitate shipboard operations.

Some 200 Eurofighters have been produced so far, predominantly to meet the requirements of participating nations in the Eurofighter programme which include Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy.

Thrust vectoring is being developed and would be operational on Eurofighters within the first half of the next decade, Dr Schmidlin said.

Harrier, which India bought in the late 1970s from Britain, was the first aircraft with thrust vectoring, which allows an aircraft to takeoff and land even in vertical mode like a helicopter. The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) being developed by Lockheed Martin for US Air Force and Navy for the coming years, will have this capability.

Besides Boeing, Dassault and Eurofighter, the other contenders in the IAF competition are Mig 35 (a newer version of Mig 29), Gripen from Sweden and F 16 Viper IN (US Lockheed Martin).

The Indian naval brass is reportedly only doing a bit of loud thinking on its new requirement, but if it formally opens the competition in the coming years, it would add a new dimension to the IAF’s ongoing contest.

IAF’s Request for Proposals (or tenders), is for a firm order for 126 aircraft and for 63 more as an option at the same price. Given the continuing fall in the number of IAF squadrons due to the obsolescence of its largely Soviet-vintage aircraft, a repeat order for at least 100 more MRCAs is likely.

If the Indian Navy chooses the same aircraft, then it would be a bonus for the supplier, and also for HAL, which would be the lead integrator for Transfer of Technology (ToT) and 50 per cent offset mandatory in the IAF RfP.

Procedurally, the Navy would also find it easier to buy the same aircraft without opening an international competition, as it would be a follow-on order requiring no multi-vendor bid.

The Indian Navy has one small aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, which has recently been refitted and modernized for life-extension. There are a dozen old Harriers to operate from its deck, while Gorshkov will be available in 2012 or 2013.

Notably, Gorshkov is a 44000-tonne carrier while India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier will only have about 37,000-tonne displacement. The second carrier, already sanctioned by the government, could be modified to be a little bigger.

Both these carriers are being designed by Italy’s Fincantieri.

According to Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma, the newer aircraft were actually being considered for operations from India’s second aircraft carrier. The Navy is gathering information to design and build a sophisticated carrier with futuristic aircraft.

It may also be noted that both Eurofighter and Rafale are smaller in size than the F 18 Super Hornet, which operates from very large US aircraft carriers floating in all the oceans.

But Boeing IDS’ Head for India, Dr Vivek Lall, told India Strategic that Boeing had done a computer simulation to verify that the Super Hornet could operate from Gorshkov and Indian carriers as and when they are commissiond.

  India Strategic  
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