Indian Navy Releases RFI for New Carrier-borne Fighter

 - January 31, 2017, 6:30 AM
Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale M are considered contenders for Indian navy requirement. (Photo: Boeing)

The Indian Navy has released a detailed Request for Information for procurement of 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF). The move follows the navy’s rejection of the naval version of the indigenous HAL Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for its planned IAC-2 (Indian Aircraft Carrier) that is designed for catapult launch and arrested recovery, and the existing IAC-1, which has a ski-ramp for launch. The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet would appear to be the leading contender, with the Dassault Rafale M another possibility.

The RFI states that the MRCBF should be a day and night capable, all-weather multi-role combat aircraft that can be used for air defense; air-to-surface operations; buddy refueling; reconnaissance; and electronic warfare missions. The life-cycle cost of the aircraft (post warranty) is an important consideration, with two depot-level repair facilities. India wants the transfer of critical technology and the participation in that process by Indian second-tier suppliers and those who can contribute to the supply chain.

The deadline for responses to the RFI is May 17. The Request for Proposal will be released once the RFI is reviewed. The deliveries of the aircraft should start within three years of signing the contract, and be completed within a further period of three years.

While Russian MiG-29Ks have been procured for the current Indian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov) and for the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-1) under construction, there have been serviceability issues, a senior naval official told AIN. “At any point in time, there are at least eight aircraft on ground [AOG],” he added. He also mentioned concerns that the type is underpowered.

The RFI states the chosen aircraft must be flying from carriers in the country of origin. That seems to limit the choice to the twin-engine Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Dassault Rafale M. However, unlike the Super Hornet, the Rafale M does not have folding wings, except at the tip—an essential for India, said the official. “Also, the cost of the Boeing aircraft is likely to be cheaper,” he added.

In the case of two-seat aircraft, the RFI inquires if the aircraft has the capability to operate from both STOBAR (Short Take-off But Arrested Recovery) and CATOBAR (Catapult Take-off But Arrested Recovery) aircraft carriers without any modifications. “This will enable the navy to use the aircraft on both the catapult and ski-jump aircraft carriers,” said the navy official.  While the Super Hornet has been tested for operation from a ski-jump ramp, it is not clear if the Rafale M has done the same.

Meanwhile the Indian Navy has been in discussions with the U.S. on a buy of four Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye Advanced Early Warning (AEW) aircraft for the 65,000-metric-ton planned IAC-2., which will be named INS Vishal. A shore-based version of the E-2D is being considered by the India-U.S. Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). With the USS Ford being inducted in March, the DTTI meeting scheduled for March may be shifted to May, AIN has learned.