Naval Avi­a­tion

Ac­qui­si­tion of P-8I, LRMR&ASW air­craft has sub­stan­tially aug­mented the long range and long en­durance ca­pa­bil­ity to re­main on task for sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance mis­sions.


Force Mul­ti­plier

Recog­nis­ing the im­per­a­tives of a well-bal­anced and cred­i­ble naval air arm’s sig­nif­i­cant role in build­ing a true-blue wa­ter ca­pa­bil­ity, In­dian Navy’s Mar­itime Doc­trine has rightly in­cor­po­rated com­pre­hen­sive mod­erni­sa­tion plan for its Fleet Air Arm through a two-pronged ap­proach. The mid-life up­grades and the process of mod­erni­sa­tion of ex­ist­ing air­craft, and through the ac­qui­si­tion of state-of-the-art and ver­sa­tile top-end tech­nol­ogy-based air­craft and in­cum­bent ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The crit­i­cal staff re­quire­ments for the ac­qui­si­tion of so­phis­ti­cated plat­forms in­clude; state of the art sen­sors, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and weapons, ad­vanced avion­ics, aero frames and aero en­gines. This strat­egy has re­alised rich div­i­dends as is ev­i­dent through big-ticket deal of ac­quir­ing P-8I, Long Range Mar­itime Re­con­nais­sance & An­ti­Sub­ma­rine War­fare (LRMR&ASW) air­craft from Boe­ing through direst For­eign Mil­i­tary Sales from the USA. Post the ini­tial or­der of eight air­craft In­dian Navy has ex­er­cised the op­tion clause and or­dered four more P-8I, to­talling to an in­ven­tory of 12.

Ac­qui­si­tion of P-8I, LRMR&ASW air­craft has sub­stan­tially aug­mented the long range and long en­durance ca­pa­bil­ity to re­main on task for sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance mis­sions. This ver­sa­tile plat­form has emerged as real game changer and sub­stan­tially contributed dur­ing op­er­a­tional de­ploy­ments of In­dian Navy fleet, be that own op­er­a­tional work-up, bi-lat­eral and multi-lat­eral ex­er­cises with for­eign. Dur­ing Hu­man­i­tar­ian and Disas­ter Re­lief mis­sions, P-8I has ren­dered yeo­man ser­vice. Sub­ma­rine de­ploy­ments from hos­tile coun­tries are most ef­fec­tively tracked right from the time of en­try in to In­dian Ocean. P-8I has been de­ployed way be­yond the con­ven­tional

reach and has earned ac­co­lades when de­ployed to op­er­ate from Indo-Pa­cific Fleet Head­quar­ters, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, etc.

En­cour­aged by the global re­sponse in of­fer­ing the ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy that is un­matched in the Long-Range MR air­craft seg­ment, a global RFI was floated for Medium Range Mar­itime Re­con­nais­sance (MRMR) air­craft to re­place the fleet of 10 Is­lan­ders. The De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil of the Min­istry of De­fence has ac­cepted the ne­ces­sity for procur­ing nine MRMR air­craft for the In­dian Navy. This project, how­ever, ap­pears to be in limbo.


Short Take-off But Ar­rested Re­cov­ery (STOBAR) scheme was ap­proved both for the In­dige­nous Air­craft Car­rier, IAC-1, Vikrant and the mod­ernised and re­fur­bished INS Vikra­ma­ditya. Ac­cord­ingly, MiG29K fighter air­craft was se­lected for the two car­ri­ers. The in­duc­tion of MiG-29K, multi-role fighter air­craft with air com­bat, ground at­tack and mar­itime strike ca­pa­bil­i­ties has proved to be a po­tent com­bat­ant for the Car­rier Bat­tle Group (CBG). The air­craft with its air-to-air ‘In­fra Red’ and ‘Be­yond Vis­ual Range’ mis­siles, guided and un­guided bombs, anti-ship mis­siles, datalink ca­pa­bil­ity, a cred­i­ble EW suite and buddy tank­ing, makes it a ver­sa­tile and po­tent fighter air­craft. MiG-29K has sta­bilised as front­line fighter air­craft of In­dian Navy and its op­er­a­tional avail­abil­ity has steadily im­proved.

The 40,000-tonne IAC-1, Vikrant which is presently un­der con­struc­tion at Cochin Ship­yard Ltd. And ex­pected to be in­ducted by 2020, will de­ploy about 30 com­bat air­craft mix of MiG-29K and LCA (Navy) in Short Take-Off But As­sisted Re­cov­ery (STOBAR) con­fig­u­ra­tion. Con­sid­er­ing the in­or­di­nate slip­pages in the de­vel­op­ment process and se­ri­ous tech­ni­cal glitches re­lat­ing to weight to power ra­tio, In­dian Navy has ruled out LCA (Navy) for IAC-1, Vikrant.

Con­se­quently, In­dian Navy has be­gun a search for a Mul­ti­Role Car­rier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) for IAC-1 and its fol­lowon. The RFI for 57 MRCBF had 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. RFI re­quired de­tails whether the air­craft is sin­gle or twin­seat (or avail­able as both), and if it has one or two en­gines; whether it can per­form STOBAR or Cat­a­pult As­sisted Take-off But Ar­rested Re­cov­ery (CATOBAR) op­er­a­tions, or both; whether the air­craft is al­ready in op­er­a­tional use or not; whether hel­met-mounted dis­plays and large-area dis­plays are in­te­grated and fit­ted; is auto-land­ing an op­tion; and whether or not an Ac­tive Elec­tron­i­cally Scanned Ar­ray radar is fit­ted.

Cur­rently, six air­craft are com­pat­i­ble, namely; Das­sault’s Rafale, Boe­ing’s F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net, Rus­sian MiG-29K, Lock­heed Martin F-35B and F-35C, and Gripen from Saab, Swe­den. While F/A-18, Su­per Hor­net, Rafale and MiG-29K are twin en­gine jets, the re­main­ing three have sin­gle en­gine. Re­sponses re­ceived to RFI are un­der an in­ter­nal eval­u­a­tion to ar­rive at the best op­tion. RFP is ex­pected to be pro­mul­gated shortly. Those in the reck­on­ing could be Boe­ing’s F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net, Lock­heed Martin’s F-35 and the Das­sault’s Rafale both pos­sess­ing the naval ver­sions which op­er­ate in the CATOBAR mode. Re­sponses from the ven­dors have been com­pre­hen­sive and are presently un­der ex­am­i­na­tion. The air­craft se­lected would be such that changes re­quired to the ex­ist­ing air­craft car­ri­ers to op­er­ate the air­craft, if any, would be min­i­mal. The RFP for 57 MRCBF is likely to be is­sued in 2019.


The sec­ond In­dige­nous Air­craft Car­rier (IAC-2) ex­pected to be an elec­tric pro­pelled, 65,000 tons CATOBAR Car­rier. At present, the case is be­ing ex­am­ined and de­lib­er­ated in MoD with ref­er­ence to the over­all fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of the Project vis-àvis In­dian Navy’s long-term bud­get avail­abil­ity. After re­ceiv­ing the ‘Ac­cep­tance of Ne­ces­sity’ (AoN), the de­sign fea­si­bil­ity study will be un­der­taken in-house for which the Navy will seek con­sul­tancy from a re­puted de­sign house. The ex­act scope of work and time­lines for ex­e­cu­tion of IAC-2 can only be done after AoN is re­ceived and de­sign fea­si­bil­ity study is com­plete.

IAC-2 is be­ing de­signed to meet the re­quire­ments of In­dian Navy in the chal­leng­ing fu­ture strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment. The car­rier will pro­vide crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the fu­ture naval force, which would be cen­tral to In­dian Navy’s op­er­a­tional phi­los­o­phy to se­cure na­tional mar­itime in­ter­est in the fu­ture.


The ac­qui­si­tion of Kamov 31 AEW

The Kamov 31 AEW he­li­copter from Rus­sia has proved a ver­sa­tile plat­form in the seg­ment of air­borne early warn­ing to beef up sur­veil­lance at sea

he­li­copter from Rus­sia has proved a ver­sa­tile plat­form in the seg­ment of air­borne early warn­ing to beef up sur­veil­lance at sea. En­cour­aged by its es­tab­lished ca­pa­bil­ity and per­for­mance at sea, ad­di­tional units of Kamov 31 he­li­copters are be­ing ac­quired. How­ever, the ro­tary wing based ca­pa­bil­ity is re­stricted by lim­ited en­durance of the plat­form at sea. What In­dian Navy re­ally re­quires is the in­trin­sic AEW ca­pa­bil­ity through fixed wing air­craft to meet the long term re­quire­ments of power pro­jec­tion, dom­i­nat­ing the lit­torals if and when re­quired, and to in­flu­ence the land bat­tle. In­dian Navy does not seem to have a choice for an in­trin­sic car­rier borne fixed wing AEW air­craft.

The Sea King 42B and Kamov 28 he­li­copters, in ASW and anti-ship strike roles and in­te­gral to ships have also aged and need to be re­placed with Multi-Role He­li­copters (MRH). The pro­cure­ment of ad­e­quate number of MRH is es­sen­tial for the growth of Ro­tary Wing Fleet.

More than a decade ago, the In­dian Navy be­gan the process of find­ing a suit­able re­place­ment for the Seaking he­li­copters by float­ing a global ten­der for 16 he­li­copters with an op­tion clause for an­other eight, in 2008 for its war­ships and for up­grad­ing di­min­ish­ing ASW ca­pa­bil­i­ties of her fleet. In the open bid­ding process, the US firm Siko­rsky was se­lected in De­cem­ber 2014. Siko­rsky emerged as the sole suc­cess­ful bid­der, after the Ital­ian firm Fin­mec­ca­nica (now Leonardo) was ruled out of the com­pe­ti­tion due to the al­le­ga­tions of scam in VIP he­li­copters deal by the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia. Sea­hawk S-70B was se­lected for its ad­vanced ASW and anti-sur­face war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties to take on the un­der­wa­ter and over the sur­face threats. How­ever, MoD fore­closed the pro­cure­ment of 16 S-70B Sea­hawk he­li­copters from Siko­rsky for var­i­ous rea­sons.

Fi­nally, the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC) on Au­gust 26, 2018 has ap­proved pro­cure­ment of 24 MRH. Avail­abil­ity of MRH with the Navy would plug the ex­ist­ing ca­pa­bil­ity gap which is the most crit­i­cal need of In­dian Navy. This con­tract when fruc­ti­fies will be an­other di­rect Gov­ern­ment-to-Gov­ern­ment (G2G) deal, also known as Di­rect For­eign Mil­i­tary Sale (FMS) with the US and worth ap­prox­i­mately $1.8 bil­lion. MH60R he­li­copters are also des­ig­nated as Sea­hawk multi-mis­sion he­li­copters, ca­pa­ble of ASW and anti-sur­face war­fare roles.

Con­se­quent to ap­proval of the Gov­ern­ment a “Let­ter of Re­quest” was is­sued on Novem­ber 15, 2018, to the US Gov­ern­ment to ac­quire 24 Naval Multi-Role, MH-60 ‘Romeo’ He­li­copters at a cost of ` 13,500 crore (ap­prox­i­mately $1.8 bil­lion). The re­quest for the he­li­copters is made as an “Ur­gent Re­quire­ment”. The MH-60R, Sea­hawk con­sid­ered the world’s most ad­vanced mar­itime he­li­copter will be armed for the ASW and anti-sur­face war­fare role and will be duly fit­ted with mis­siles and tor­pe­does.

The ac­qui­si­tion of 24 MH-60R Sea­hawk he­li­copters opens new vis­tas for the In­dian Navy’s long-term re­quire­ments for 123 Naval Multi-Role He­li­copters (NMRH) and 111 twin-en­gine armed Naval Util­ity He­li­copters (NUH) pro­grammes un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive and in part­ner­ship with the in­dige­nous Pri­vate Sec­tor un­der Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Model.

The re­sponse to RFIs for both projects has been very en­cour­ag­ing. Sev­eral OEMs have shown in­ter­est to­wards man­u­fac­tur­ing th­ese he­li­copters in In­dia. The NUH is the ba­sic ship borne util­ity armed, twin-en­gine he­li­copter with rel­a­tively lesser com­plex­i­ties, which are likely to be in­ducted in a phased man­ner com­menc­ing 2024. The NMRH is a com­plex plat­form with so­phis­ti­cated weapons and sen­sors. There­fore, the in­duc­tion of NMRH may take one or two years more than the NUH. The most sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship is that it will fa­cil­i­tate the In­dian in­dus­try in im­bib­ing niche tech­nolo­gies in he­li­copter man­u­fac­tur­ing which would ben­e­fit the in­dus­try as well as the In­dian Armed Forces in the long run.


The com­ing decades cer­tainly hold enor­mous prom­ise for sub­stan­tial growth and em­pow­er­ment of the In­dian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. With the kind of ca­pa­bil­i­ties on the anvil, it would emerge as a cred­i­ble force to tackle multi-di­men­sional chal­lenges of the fu­ture and play its part in mak­ing In­dian Navy, a truly Blue Wa­ter Navy with ex­tended reach and prow­ess to meet strate­gic tasks in con­so­nance with na­tional mar­itime se­cu­rity im­per­a­tives.

The ac­qui­si­tion of 24 MH-60R Sea­hawk he­li­copters opens new vis­tas for In­dian Navy’s long-term re­quire­ments for 123 Naval Mul­ti­Role He­li­copters and 111 twin-en­gine armed Naval Util­ity He­li­copters




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