Hunt for Multi-Role Car­rier-Borne Fighters

De­sign and de­vel­op­ment of LcA-navy has run into se­vere rough weath­ers, com­pelling in­dian navy to back track from the project, as in­def­i­nite de­lay in its fruc­ti­fi­ca­tion runs con­trary to the progress of iAc pro­gramme


Rear Ad­mi­ral Sushil Ram­say (Retd)

riGHt From The Con­cept de­sign it­self de­ter­min­ing the suit­abil­ity and vi­a­bil­ity of Air Wing for an air­craft car­rier has posed ma­jor chal­lenge to the De­sign­ers. When ins Vikrant, which her­alded the full-fledged birth of naval avi­a­tion in in­dian, there were no such chal­lenge, ex­cept choos­ing mar­itime re­con­nais­sance and anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare (AsW) air­craft to op­er­ate from Vikrant. Af­ter an elab­o­rate search and eval­u­a­tion process, Al­izes from france were se­lected. this com­pleted the Air Wing of Vikrant with sea­hawks as the main fighter jet and Al­izes as AsW air­craft. this com­bi­na­tion con­tin­ued to ex­cel in their op­er­a­tional role. Vikran­tÕs es­capades on the eastern se­aboard dur­ing 1971 op­er­a­tions earned ku­dos for Air Wing of Vikrant.

Due to age­ing, es­pe­cially the ma­te­rial state of Vikran­tÕs air­craft launch sys­tem con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate. thus, the hunt be­gan for a re­place­ment of sea­hawk fighter jet. This lead to com­plete re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of the flight deck of Vikrant, as jump jet sea Har­rier was the only ver­sa­tile op­tion avail­able. sea Har­ri­ers con­tin­ued their op­er­a­tional role with Žlan for sev­eral decades and proved a wor­thy plat­form to be in­ducted on board ins Vi­raat, later. sea Har­ri­ers served the Vi­raat till the very end of her op­er­a­tional life.

in be­tween, in­dian navy de­cided to ac­quire third air­craft car­rier off the shelf but this time from rus­sia. the di­men­sions of chal­lenges were huge due to ac­qui­si­tion of a unique plat­form, as former Ad­mi­ral Gor­shkov was not de­signed to op­er­ate as air­craft car­rier. to­tal re­fur­bish­ment and mod­erni­sa­tion of Gor­shkov en­sued with com­pletely dif­fer­ent deck de­sign, hangars, lifts, launch ar­rester gear in­stal­la­tions, is­land struc­ture, etc. for MiG-29K to op­er­ate from ins Vikra­ma­ditya.

con­struc­tion of indigenous Air­craft car­rier (iAc-1), Vikrant is pro­gress­ing well, de­spite the time and cost-over­runs. Gov­ern­ment of in­dia de­cided the Air Wing of Vikrant to com­prise MiG-29K and light com­bat air­craft (LcA-navy). While the ac­qui­si­tion process of MiG-29K for Vikrant is un­der­way, de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of LcA-navy has run into se­vere rough weath­ers, com­pelling in­dian navy to back track from the project, as in­def­i­nite de­lay in its fruc­ti­fi­ca­tion runs con­trary to the progress of iAc pro­gramme. con­se­quently, the in­dian navy has launched a global hunt for mar­itime fighter jets dur­ing Jan­uary 2017 to op­er­ate from fu­ture iAc pro­gramme.

With the ap­proval of the Gov­ern­ment, the In­dian Navy has floated Re­quest for in­for­ma­tion (rfi) for 57 multi-role car­rier borne fighters (MRCBF) with a pro­vi­sion to en­hance the fu­ture or­der for a larger quan­tity to meet fu­ture re­quire­ments of MrcBf. in­dian navy is cur­rently left with a sole air­craft car­rier ins Vikra­ma­ditya which is de­signed to op­er­ate only MiG-29K, hence the hunt for new gen­er­a­tion MrcBf. the re­sponses to the rfi were to be sub­mit­ted by May 2017, how­ever, the present sta­tus of the case is not avail­able in pub­lic do­main.

the rfi has elicited re­sponse from all lead­ing global MrcBf man­u­fac­tur­ers to an­swer queries on tech­ni­cal pa­ram­e­ters, bud­getary es­ti­mates, likely level of in­di­geni­sa­tion, trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy and sched­ule of de­liv­er­ies af­ter a con­tract is inked. french, swedish, rus­sian and Amer­i­can firms have been served the RFI for the project to equip in­di­aÕs fu­ture car­ri­ers: indigenous Air­craft car­rier (iAc)-i or Vikrant be­ing built at Kochi and iAc-2, which is at a con­cep­tual de­sign stage for 60,000 tonnes dis­place­ment air­craft car­rier with con­ven­tional propul­sion. there are spec­u­la­tions to in­duct elec­tro-mag­netic air­craft launch sys­tem (eMALs) for iAc-2.

Rafale M

french air­craft maker Das­sault Avi­a­tion will com­pete for the MrcBf pro­gramme with the Rafale M fighter. Cur­rently these fighter jets are op­er­at­ing from french navyÕs nu­cle­ar­pow­ered air­craft car­rier charles de Gaulle. in­dia signed a $8.7 bil­lion deal with france last year for 36 Rafale fighter jets for the in­dian Air force (iAf). Das­sault is hop­ing the IAF or­der could give it a head start. The firm be­lieves it makes bet­ter sense to equip the iAf and the in­dian navy with the same plat­form as it would trans­late into bet­ter lo­gis­tics, main­te­nance and in­dus­trial sup­port.

Gripen Mar­itime

swedish air­craft maker saab has re­port­edly thrown its hat into to the ring with its Gripen Mar­itime fighter. Saab has claimed their mar­itime fighter has “95 per cent com­mon­al­ity” with the Gripen E. The Swedish firm is closely track­ing an iAf pro­gramme to build sin­gleengine fighters in In­dia. Saab has fur­ther claimed that the mar­itime fighter fea­tures all the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Gripen e and will come with a highly com­pet­i­tive op­er­a­tional cost per flight hour. Low main­te­nance re­quire­ments and high avail­abil­ity for op­er­a­tions make it an ideal so­lu­tion for the in­dian navy.

F/A-18 E/F Su­per Hor­net

Us de­fence gi­ant Boe­ingÕs f/A-18 e/f su­per Hor­net is also ex­pected to be a strong con­tender for the in­dian navy project. the f/A e-18es op­er­ate from Amer­i­can su­per air­craft car­ri­ers such as Uss nimitz and Uss ron­ald rea­gan, with the Us navy ac­count­ing for a fleet of more than 600 Su­per Hor­nets. Re­port­edly the Amer­i­can firm is also in dis­cus­sions with the iAf to set up a pro­duc­tion line in the coun­try to build twinengine fighter planes. The US has of­fered its eMALs tech­nol­ogy and ad­vanced ar­rest­ing gear for new gen­er­a­tion iAc-2. in­dia and the Us have formed a joint work­ing group on air­craft car­rier tech­nol­ogy co­op­er­a­tion.


rus­sia will be eye­ing the project with the MiG-29K fighter jet, al­ready in ser­vice with the In­dian Navy. The deck-based fighter op­er­ates from ins Vikra­ma­ditya, a sec­ond-hand car­rier bought from rus­sia. the In­dian Navy com­mis­sioned its first squadron of MiG-29K fighters at Goa in May 2013, ahead of the in­duc­tion of ins Vikra­ma­ditya. It also plans to de­ploy the fighters on the iAc-1 hav­ing placed sep­a­rate or­ders for 45 MiG-29K fighters.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: US Navy, Das­sault Avi­a­tion

(Left) Boe­ing F/A-18E/F Su­per Hor­net; (right) Rafale M fighter.

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