Indian Navy Embarks on Quest for Fighters for Indigenous Carrier

 - December 12, 2018, 11:32 AM
Two LCA Navy technology demonstrators have been built, the first of which is seen during ski-jump launch trials in 2016. The test facility at Goa is equipped with undercarriage restraints that allow the aircraft to apply full power before being released. (photo: Aeronautical Development Agency)

As India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (INS Vikrant, IAC-1) reaches its third and final phase of construction at the Kochi Shipyard in South India, with sea trials to start in mid-2020, Chief of Naval Staff Sunil Lanba confirmed to AIN that the design for the follow-on IAC-2 has been frozen. India currently has one aircraft carrier, the refurbished 44,000-tonne Soviet-era Kiev-class carrier INS Vikramaditya, which is equipped with RAC MiG MiG-29K fighters.

IAC-2 will take at least a decade to construct and will be a 65,000-tonne conventionally powered vessel in CATOBAR (catapult-assisted takeoff but arrested recovery) configuration. “This will give the navy an operational capability of two battle groups at a time. We have decided on the form and fit and costing details of IAC-2,” said Lanba.

The construction of the IAC-2 will take between seven and 10 years. “We see it starting within a three-year period,” noted Lanba, adding, “We are also hopeful for a new fighter produced in India [for the IAC-2]. This will move progressively from the LCA Navy to a twin-engine deck-based fighter.” He confirmed that this project is unrelated to the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program.

Having earlier rejected the original LCA Navy version, the Navy is supporting the government’s naval Light Combat Aircraft Mk2 (LCA) program, for which two technology demonstrators have been produced. Based on the Indian air force LCA, the naval version of LCA Mk2 will require a higher thrust engine, an increased wing area, lighter landing gear and structure, and a tailhook. However, a Request for Proposal for 57 twin-engine naval fighters is to be issued by next year in which both the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale M could be considered. “The size of the carrier deck lift will be decided later on,” said Lanba.

Meanwhile, Lanba told AIN that India’s ministry of defense is working on how payments could be made to Russia on current, ongoing, and future contracts. This follows U.S. sanctions on Russian companies under CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act), which seeks to preclude countries from buying Russian weapons. This has led to apprehension within the military concerning the serviceability of Russian equipment and the supply of spares. Lanba commented, “There is no issue on supplies of spare parts from Russia at the moment…the MiG-29K fleet has been performing well now.”