Navy chief says 4 companies have expressed interest for jets
Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said four defense companies have expressed interest in providing it 57 multi-role combat fighter jets for its aircraft carrier. He didn't mention the name of the companies but veteran defense journalist Shiv Aroor reported that these are America's Boeing, France's Dassault, Russia's Mikoyan and Sweden's Saab. Let's take a look what the four contenders have on offer.
Currently, the India Navy has 45 Russian-made MiG-29K fighter jets in its inventory. Some of these operate from its sole aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. However, they face deficiencies arising from defects in engines, airframes and fly-by-wire systems, according to a Comptroller and Auditor General report. This has caused severe serviceability problems, which means a large part of the fleet remains unavailable when needed.
The navy hunt for 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) is meant to augment operational capabilities for its under-construction Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). Navy Chief Admiral Lanba said the Vikrant is expected to be commissioned in 2020. The navy is also working on designing the IAC-II, INS Vishal, which will be much larger than the Vikramaditya and Vikrant.
In February, the Navy had issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the aircraft after Lanba had rejected the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas' naval variant as too heavy for carrier operations.
The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a frontline battle-proven carrier-based fighter for the US Navy. Boeing has also offered twin-engine aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for its ongoing single-engine fighter requirement and has agreed to manufacture them in India. The US has offered India its electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology for the INS Vishal, which would be able to launch F/A-18.
The French Rafale-M is the naval variant of the Rafale, 36 of which the IAF have procured. This places the Rafale-M in an advantage as commonality would assist in better logistics, maintenance and industrial support. The Rafale-M is operational in the French Navy's aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and has flown combat anti-ISIS missions. Its high cost could however be an issue.
The Gripen Maritime exists on paper. It's the naval variant of the Saab Gripen which is operational with air forces of several countries. The aircraft's design work was completed in 2012 but it didn't go to the next stage as there was no buyer. The Gripen has been offered to the IAF for its single-engine fighter requirement. However, the navy is seeking twin-engine aircraft.
The Russian-built MiG-29K has little chance of being selected by the Indian Navy. The problems with the aircraft (explained earlier) were among the very reason the navy decided to look for other fighter jets. However, several naval officials had in the past defended the MiG-29K, calling it the best choice available. For now, it remains the navy's primary combat fighter aircraft.