Looking for an enhanced presence, the Navy is planning to buy a state-of-the-art, multi-role, new generation carrier-based fighter aircraft. And in pursuance of this, the Navy has sent out a request for information (RFI) to some of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers.

The aircraft firms included: the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) for their Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing Integrated Defence System (for the F/A-18 Super Hornet), Sweden’s SAAB (who are offering the Gripen JAS 39) and France’s Dassault (for the Rafale).

The new naval aircraft are meant for deployment on the Navy’s third aircraft carrier, which is expected to be commissioned around 2018.

While the Rafale and the F/A-18 are natural choices for naval operations as they were built specifically for carrier-based multi-role operations, the manufacturers of the Typhoon and the Gripen have indicated that their aircraft could be suitably modified for naval carrier-based flying.

All four aircraft (along with the Russian MiG-35 and the American F-16) are already in contention for another mega Indian defence forces’ deal — the $10 billion -$12 billion Indian Air Force’s plans to acquire 126 medium, multi-role combat aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence sources told The Hindu that the Navy has the go-ahead from the government for the purchase. The RFI has not specified the exact number of aircraft that the Navy is keen on acquiring, nor the modalities that will be specified for their manufacture or offset requirements.

Once the manufacturers provided their information, the Navy will send out a request for proposal detailing the Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements that the fighter should possess. After the receipt of the proposals, the Navy will short list, setting in motion the process of flight evaluation trials, selection, commercial negotiations and finally the acquisition.

The new aircraft, which will be in the 25-30 tonne class, will be in addition to the 16 Russian-manufactured MiG-29Ks that India is acquiring, and the naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas (12-14 tonnes class) which is presently being designed. The Navy on December 4 received in knocked-down condition, the first of its MiG-29Ks.

While the MiG-29Ks will be on the deck of the 44,570-tonne Kiev class Admiral Gorshkov (to be rechristened INS Vikramaditya), the naval Tejas is earmarked for the 40,000-tonne, indigenous aircraft carrier that is being built at the Cochin Shipyard.

The Navy’s only fighter aircraft now is the British-made Sea Harrier jump jets which are deployed on the Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. Official sources said that the Sea Harriers, which were decommissioned by the (British) Royal Navy in March 2006, will be in the inventory as long as the INS Viraat is deployed (could be till 2019).

The Navy’s decision to acquire fighters comes on the heels of the recent placement of orders for 40 warships and submarines.

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