The Navy is looking to combine its multi-role carrier-based fighter jet procurement tender along with the IAF tender for 114 fighters that are underway. The development comes following a decision to cut down the numbers to be procured following the indigenous development proposal by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
“We have the MiG-29K operating from the Vikramaditya and will operate from the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-I. To replace them, we have taken up a case for the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) which we are trying to do along with the IAF,” Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said last week without elaborating. “The Navy has approached the IAF and we are awaiting their response,” another Navy official said on condition of anonymity.
On the Navy’s fighter procurement plans, Adm. Singh said the new development has been the Twin Engine Carrier-Based Deck Fighter (TEDBF) which the DRDO and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) have offered. He said they are working together to make sure that happens. It then “will have an indigenous deck based fighter for the Navy”.
Adm. Singh said many lessons have been learned from the Naval LAC-MK1 programme like the arrestor hook and undercarriage and so on and more lessons are being learnt through the Shore-Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa. “My hope is that the TEDBF would be able to enter service sometime in the early 2030s.”
Cutting down numbers
In 2017, the Navy has floated a Request For Information (RFI) to global fighter manufacturers and the response is being evaluated. However, with the new jet under development and also factoring in budgetary constraints, the Navy is in the process of cutting down the number of fighters from 57 to around 36. The final decision is awaited.
To further optimise the process, it is now looking to combine it with the IAF. However, it has to be seen how this is taken forward as the IAF RFI was open to both single and twin-engine fighters while the Navy has a stated requirement for a twin-engine jet to operate off its carriers.
The Navy has 45 Russian MiG-29K and it had said earlier there will not be enough aircraft to operate from both carriers. The response to the RFI from Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation with its Rafale jets are being evaluated. Both companies had said their jets can operate off the ski-jump of the Vikramaditya and in future the IAC-I Vikrant.
In fact, a Navy team was to visit the US Naval Air Station in Maryland early this year to witness a demonstration from Boeing on the compatibility of its F-18 Super Hornet to take off and land from the decks of Indian carriers. However, the visit was deferred due to the pandemic.