Four Fighters Throw Hat Into Big Indian Navy Ring

Four months after the Indian Navy announced its big multirole carrier borne fighter (MRCBF) contest for 57 jets, Livefist has the list of four contenders who’ve formally responded: Boeing with the F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation with the Rafale M, Saab with the Gripen Maritime and Rosoboronexport/UAC with the MiG-29K. Notably, Lockheed-Martin, which has pushed the F-35B/C for an Indian Navy requirement for years, has decided not to respond. That isn’t immediately surprising, given that the U.S. giant looks at any prospective F-35 sale to India as birthed by a specific strategic government-to-government move rather than midwifed by a tendered contest.

As Livefist has noted before, it is this contest that could hold the key to important future procurement decisions by the Indian Air Force as well. The four-way state of play provides tantalizing mix of jets now typical to Indian procurement efforts in the military aviation sphere. From two well-worn in service CATOBAR jets to a relatively new STOBAR craft to an airplane concept that doesn’t exist yet, the Indian Navy’s MRCBF starts off with the one assurance that unites all Indian contests: this is going to be an interesting ride. Let’s line the horses up and have a look:

  1. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: The Super Hornet has a major Make-in-India bid going that looks to feed a prospective Indian Air Force requirement for twin engine fighters that Boeing hopes will quickly follow the current active single-engine contest.  As part of Washington’s wider technological CATOBAR push in India, Boeing’s offering gains. On the other hand, Boeing is on record to say it has simulated STOBAR ski-jump operations and that the Super Hornet is capable of operating from a Vikramaditya-class carrier.
  2. Dassault Rafale-M: The Rafale has type advantage. To be in service with at least two Indian Air Force squadrons, and the possibility of more at a later stage, the Rafale gets to push the commonality key. Cost, though, would be a pushback.
  3. Mikoyan MiG-29KThe MiG-29K, it clear by now, has little chance of adding numbers in Indian inventory. A worthy fighter on a trusted platform, but it has run into several problems — not least that it doesn’t quite deliver what the Indian Navy needs from deck-based squadron, notably endurance. Other problems with the jet are well-documented, but the very fact that the Indian Navy has invested time, energy and a ton of funds on looking for new fighters means the MiG-29K is pretty much toast.
  4. Saab Gripen Maritime Saab says the Gripen Maritime (known by its far niftier previous name ‘Sea Gripen’) is ready on paper and has been simmed in both CATOBAR and STOBAR configurations. Design work was completed in 2012, with Saab only really waiting for a fund tap from an interested customer to take the development forward. A single engine configuration works against it — the Indian Navy will be hard pressed to explain junking plans with the LCA Navy (and perhaps the up-engined Mk.2) for another albeit more capable single engine fighter. However, Saab’s chances in the IAF’s single engine fighter deal will offset some of the downer factor of not being an available, proven aircraft today.

Way too much happens between the cup and the lip in Indian procurement, though. The RFI stage, as vendors and the customer know, is painfully preliminary. And contingent as the MRCBF contest is on several factors, including the Indian Air Force’s own forward plans, it could be some time before the next step shows up. The big churn in India’s defence industrial policy and strategic partnership roll-out will necessarily slow proceedings for the moment. No one’s holding their breaths, but the race has begun.

13 thoughts on “Four Fighters Throw Hat Into Big Indian Navy Ring”

  1. Great another competition, which will go on for years, in the meantime nothing is done to develop India’s own capabilities of designing and producing sophisticated military platforms! When it comes to defence and security procurement the mantra of “Made in India” is increasingly sounding hollow. If India is serious about matching China’s naval capabilities, the F-35 is the only serious plane. Though the Super Hornet is a great and proven fighter, it is based on a design that is 40 plus years. The government should still force the navy and air force to buy Tejas MKII or MKIII. If India is going to be a true super power its leaders need to develop a proper strategy between science and research, the armed forces and industry on making and producing arms. This means politicians standing up to the armed forces. India cannot afford to carry on buying old weapons off the shelf while its global rivals are technologically speeding ahead.

    1. An extremely unfortunate action by the Indian Navy. Of the trio of the Army, Air Force ad the Navy, it was the Navy that had the reputation of being the most enthusiastic promoter of indigenous weapons.

      The Tejas Navy is a very good development. Its the first time since independence we’re attempting something so complex, that only a handful of nations have even attempted earlier. It only needs an impetus, a push. And that push has to come from the Institutions like the Navy and Defence Ministry. The DRDO cannot be expected to be plough a lonely forrough, if it sees that the Navy is scouting for planes elsewhere, and the Def Ministry is simply uninterested.

      It’s very easy to act like a bride, and invite suitors from across the world to show off their wares. Its far more difficult to get hands dirty with the DRDO, and lend hand and shoulder till the N-Tejas flies off the decks of the Vikrant. I hope that better sense prevails in the Navy, and the N-Tejas is given the impetus its seeking, and its inducted with flying colours in the Indian Navy.

    2. We should buy F-35 for what ? We have enough flawed jets already that keep dropping like apples. You know how much F35 cost compared to F18 ? How much money is required to repair the Stealth Body of F35 just after its one hour flight ?

  2. any updates on IAC ?? pehle ise to bana lo, if navy lca was no good then why they inveted money to develop it.

  3. Ok, it is clear we love foreign toys!!! so simply pick Rafale or Gripen for both and call it a day… saves more money that way than putting any other stuff.

  4. another 8-10 billion out of country ?? could build 2 vikrant, why not ask hal to build su-33 just like chinese did??

    1. Because the Su 33 without catapult launch lacks offensive capacity. It’s fuel or weapons. It’s just useful to show off…

      Of the 4 contenders the only 2 war fighting machines are Rafale M and Super Hornet.
      But the Super Hornet is a huge beast, you need big aircraft carrier to use it.

      Rafale M can use the same weapons and equipment as Air Force Rafale. So it means saving.

    2. Because with the Su 33 you need to choose between fuel and weapons. It’s only good to show off the flag.

      On the other hand the Rafale M is a proven and reliable naval fighter, it can share weapons, targeting & reconnaissance pod, engine and every spare parts (other than landing gear) or training with Air Force Rafale B/ C. So it means saving compared to initial order.
      It comes ready to use.
      You can benefit of French Navy assistance to put Rafale into Indian Navy service (same for Super Hornet and US Navy off course). Who will teach you the Gripen Maritime if the paper plane is finally built. Sweden never had an aircraft carrier.

      Super Hornet is good too, but it’s a big plane. You need a carrier as big as US one to use it properly.

      1. There is nothing new in catapult launch its just a hook which is inserted onto catapult

        If f18 has capability to launch from ski jump there is nothing wrong with su33 or mig 29k to launch from catapult

        So u think sukhoi makes fighters to show off,

  5. puneet shukla

    f18 will again create maintenance problem as it will be a new platform , trump will not permit local production. Rafale is only and useful hope, if IAF joins navy hand and cost is managed

  6. IAF wanted to consider F-16. Trump put paid to it. Unreliable Americans.
    So F-18 ruled out.
    MiG-29, plane not realiable.
    Grippen paper plane, not too different from LCA.

    However our MOD babudom will take 15 years to even open this file.After that order 8 Rafales, saying no money.

    All the best to IN aviation wing.

    IN should simply add LCA, begin using it, let india learn . The hasten Mk-2version.

  7. A regressive step by a normally progressive Navy. The LCA was the best bet. If there are issues regarding range, time on task innovative tactical methods could have been employed to mitigate the limitation. The power issues of the engine was being solved with the upgraded engine. Indian armed forces need to learn to support local DRDO efforts for some time until they catch up with all the QRs. The Services are also many times guilty of shifting the goal posts in design specs down the road.

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