NAVY DOGFIGHT BEGINS: India Opens Talks With Boeing & Dassault

The Indian Navy has officially opened vendor discussions with Boeing Defense and Dassault Aviation under its most ambitious current aviation thrust, a quest for 57 multirole fighters to operate off its future aircraft carriers. Livefist can confirm that while the navy did receive four responses in response to its call for information last year, only two are being regarded as ‘serious contenders’.

A top Indian Navy aviation and procurement officer confirmed proceedings on the Multirole Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) project to Livefist. He said, “We are treating only  two of the responses as being from serious and ready contenders. This is in the interests of our current requirements and timelines.”

As projected here on Livefist before, the contest is progressing as a direct face-off between Boeing’s F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet and a modified version of Dassault’s Rafale M F3R standard. Livefist can confirm that the Indian Navy isn’t regarding by the same measure of seriousness the two other responses it has received — from Russia for the MiG-29K and from Sweden’s Saab for the concept Gripen Maritime. It is all but official, therefore, that these last two contenders don’t have a place in the potential race.

A request for proposal (RfP) process for the 57 naval fighters, to be executed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model, could begin later this year. The navy is in the process of finetuning operational staff requirements before freezing naval air staff requirements (NASR).

While the navy hasn’t stipulated engine numbers and launch configuration in its RFI sent out last year, Livefist gathers that planners are steeply inclined towards catapult launch (CATOBAR) operations, all but confirming that India’s future aircraft carriers (IAC-2 onwards) will be flat-top vessels, rather than the ski-jump fitted aircraft carriers it has operated thus far (barring the original INS Vikrant in its early configuration). India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the new Vikrant-class, will be a ski-jump fitted ship like the INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat before it.

Both Boeing and Dassault have invested energies in attempting to persuade the Indian Navy that the F/A-18 and Rafale, respectively, are capable of operations of a ski-jump fitted carrier, even if they’re design-built for launches off a catapult system. It is understood that the Indian Navy has officially requested data on simulations conducted by both companies in this regard.

Progress on what is arguably the Indian Navy’s most significant current procurement push comes at a time replete with pressures and uncertainties that could almost certainly complicate, delay — perhaps even derail — momentum towards the next step. For instance, a vituperative opposition party-led political spotlight on the Indian government’s 2016 Rafale deal has made the readily touchy act of arms contracting in India even more sensitive. With India’s next national election less than 18 months away, all processes with even the slightest capacity to trigger political noise go slow. And this is not to even mention the enormous complexities and uncertainties buffeting the Strategic Partnership model itself and how India can even execute under it.

As Livefist reported last year, there are inevitable linkages between the Indian Navy’s requirements and what could come next for the Indian Air Force — a seemingly insatiable quest for squadrons to meet sanctioned strength numbers. The Indian Air Force’s quest for 100 single engine fighters under the Strategic Partnership model, a direct face-off between Saab’s Gripen E and the F-16 Block 70, is also reported to have run into trouble over fears of a single-vendor situation. Concerns that apply to the IAF’s quest will definitely apply to the navy’s own. Neither service will be holding its breath.

A poignant confirmation that Livefist was able to obtain as part recent interactions with naval planners was that the indigenous LCA Navy Mk.2, seen earlier as the last hope for the home-grown fighter for carrier operations, is officially off the table. Documents viewed by your correspondent show that on October 18, 2016, at a meeting between then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, an Indian Navy team and representatives of the DRDO, it was officially decided that the file on the LCA Mk.1 and Mk.2 would be closed from a procurement perspective, though funding would continue. Noting that the proposed Mk.2 also did not meet requirements and would be available too late, Parrikar signed off on a decision to de-link the LCA program from the navy’s quest for further fighters. The file notes, ‘ADA to continue development of LCA Navy Mk.2 as an intermediate step with an aim to develop an indigenous deck based fighter that will meet naval requirements’. Minutes of a meeting that took subsequently took place on November 21, 2016 show that the navy was then cleared to ‘initiate a case for deck based fighters independent of the LCA Mk.2 project’.

The Indian Navy is therefore planning to formalise financial support to the fifth generation AMCA program is the potential first indigenous deck-based fighter.

8 thoughts on “NAVY DOGFIGHT BEGINS: India Opens Talks With Boeing & Dassault”

  1. My view, Safran Engine (snecma/sep) work on kaveri, they implement M88 core already, now they work for stabilizing the thrust between 6t-9t, long path year of testing and fixing hot part, (it is not preparing cooking). After india will have its own engine, the key component of jet aircraft, after DRAL can support implementation and design for tejas mk2 avec Dassault Support. Rafale can have a payload of 15 tons weapons/bomb, on aircraft carrier, it is about 10ton payload. Tejas mk2 can have a payload of 3-4t, rafale catobar + tejas mk2 stovl will be good partner team, may be kaferi 9t can be surely used on specfic rafale made india by DRAL, but new engine more consumption, more weight, more increasing rcs and maintenance. F18 is end of cylce of architecture and design, good for strike, bad rcs, bad dogifighter, very heavy. only poltic reason can help him for win. Rafale is superior to F18 in all case, may F35C can have chance depending choice of kind of mission (not in rfp).. i know IAF is prefering rafale, MMRCA evaluation show the fail of F18 and was not able to takeof over 50% payload and need double number of fligth than rafale for complete evaluation. USA never share technology they want the customer totaly under control (iran experience), MOD want politic agrement with USA, doenst care of efficience air force. between rafale or f18, i take rafale, between rafale and F35, i take both, depend of kind mission.

  2. An extremely sorry state of affairs. It was hoped that the Indian Navy would heave and shove if the N-Tejas fell somewhat short of requirements. After all, no less than Naval Commodore Maolankar himself said that the Tejas has long legs compared to its size.

    The Navy flew the Sea-Harriers for the longest possible time. These were extremely short-legged birds, which were clearly inadequate at the dawn of the 21st century. So, the Navy could at least have considered the N-Tejas in it’s present form, which is far more potent.

    The N-Tejas Mk.2 must be fitted with the most advanced version of GE-F-414 (or any other engine) with a thrust of at least 130 kN. This will undoubtedly bring the N-Tejas once again into contention with the Indian Navy.

    Finally, on a silver lining, the Navy’s support for the N-AMCA is seemingly positive. However, my optimism is very cautious given what has happened vis-a-vis the N-Tejas.

      1. If larger engines won’t fit the Tejas, then Tejas can be made larger. Oh wait…it’s already being done with the Tejas Mk.2.

        There you go.

  3. I think Navy should fly atleast a squadron or two of LCA as shore based fighters on Gujrat/Maharashtra coast. Learn from them so the experience can applied to AMCA. The armed forces will benefit to learn by comparing LCA Navy and Air Force in terms of performance and reliability .

  4. The least important question is which one. Both are jewels of Western technology and superior to anything they may encounter ( except maybe Saudi F15s and PLAN J15s?) in the Indo-Pacific. The important thing should be the procurement process should be fast, clean, transparent and non-controversial. I strongly suggest we include the leader of the Opposition in the scrutiny process and make it a nationally agreed deal. Or is that too much to hope for from Babudom and Netadom?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top