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Navy’s hunt for new carrier-operated fighters begins

The Navy has launched a hunt for a new set of fighter jets to operate from the aircraft carriers it will have in service five to six years from now.

Written by Agencies | New Delhi |
November 29, 2009 10:16:43 am

The Navy has launched a hunt for a new set of fighter jets to operate from the aircraft carriers it will have in service five to six years from now. Navy sources said here today that the force has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to global aviation majors,including American Boeing,Russian MiG and French D’Assault,ahead of issuing a tender for the aircraft.

Though the RFI is of a ‘generic’ nature,it could ultimately lead to a tender (or Request for Proposal) and the initial requirement would be for 16 aircraft with provision for follow-up orders of up to 40 aircraft,sources said.

The deck-based aircraft are required by the Navy to operate from its three 40,000-tonne Indigenous Aircraft Carriers (IAC) being built at the Cochin Shipyard. The delivery of the first IAC is expected around 2015. While Boeing is likely to offer its F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ which is operated by the US Navy from its aircraft carriers,D’Assault will bid with its ‘Rafale’ fighters. Both these aircraft are already in the race for the Indian Air

Force’s (IAF) 126 medium multi role aircraft (MMRCA) tender worth Rs 42,000 crore. The search for a new set of carrier-operated aircraft has begun as there would be a delay in operationalising the naval variant of the ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft,sources said. This is just a stop-gap arrangement,keeping in mind the operational requirements in case the Naval LCAs are not ready by the time the IACs set sail,sources added.

While the LCA programme was launched by DRDO in 1985,it took its maiden flight only in 2001. The Naval variant’s first flight is yet to take place. An apparent lack of long-term strategic planning has already led to the 28,000-tonne ageing carrier INS Viraat losing two-thirds of its fleet of nearly 30 Sea Harrier jump-jets.

India bought Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier from Russia in 2004 along with the air complement of 16 MiG-29Ks. The delivery of the warship has been further delayed till 2012,but the first lot of the MiG-29Ks are expected to arrive in India next month.

Now,India is also considering an order for 29 more MiG-29Ks from Russia for USD 1.1 billion to operate them from both Gorshkov and the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier already under construction in Kochi. Though the Navy had wanted to operate the Naval variant of the Tejas on IACs,the delays in its development has forced it to look for alternatives for the other two IACs that would follow the first.

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