TEDBF To Join Navy In 2032 In Time For INS VISHAL
Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces
INS VIKRAMADITYA a 45000 aircraft carrier can operate a maximum of 36 fighters and helicopters. The ideal combination is 24 x MiG29K fighters and 12xhelicopters ( Kamov31/ Dhruv /Sea King).
On the other hand the soon to be inducted INS VIKRANT, the first of the indigenous aircraft carrier will also have the ability to embark a maximum of same numbers i.e 36 fighters and helicopters in the same combination. Though VIKRANT is only 40000 tons.
The Indian Navy is already having 45 x Mig 29Ks and therefore can arm both the aircraft carriers. It has a combat range of 850km with maximum payload of 5500kg over 8 hard points.
Thus it is a formidable naval fighter ideal for both interception and strike missions. The aircrafts have been inducted between 2012 and 2017 and thus can easily serve till 2035 and may be a few years more.
With all the delays in decision making and the present financial crunch, the second indigenous aircraft carrier INS VISHAL, though badly needed, is not likely to join the Indian Navy before 2032.
In case this turns out to be a 65000 ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, then we will be requiring an air group of say maximum 65 ( fighters, EW aircrafts and helicopters ). This roughly suggests that we need to have around three fighter squadrons for this aircraft carrier alone, that is around 60 jets.
Now here comes the news from HAL that the Navy can expect to start receiving new twin-engine aircraft carrier-based fighter aircraft being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) by 2032.
Last January, the naval Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) successfully completed arrested landing and take-off on board VIKRAMADITYA and has since undertaken several trials.
Based on the experience of the carrier landing, the DRDO has offered to develop a twin-engine deck-based fighter for the Navy. With the successful deck-landing, they decided to drop the naval LCA Mk2 and move on to the twin-engine jet deck based fighter.
A conservative estimate of 10 to 12 fighters per year, it will take around six years to equip VISHAL itself. Thereafter from 2039 it will start replacing the MiG29Ks and complete the replacement only by 2043-44.
In that time frame we may be getting the third indigenous carrier and even a fourth one as replacement for VIKRAMADITYA. This means not only a much larger number of aircrafts but also a naval version of our futuristic AMCA.
Cutting back to the present, though development and manufacturing of TEDB in large numbers is most essential but we will still need a stop gap arrangement for VISHAL between 2032 and 2038. So the Navy is currently evaluating the responses to the Request For Information (RFI) from Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation with its Rafale jets.
Both companies had stated that their jets can operate off the ski-jump of VIKRAMADITYA and in future the VIKRANT and the VISHAL. With the new jet under development and also factoring in budgetary constraints, the Navy is looking to revise the tender for 57 carrier-based jets downwards.
In fact, an Indian Navy team was to visit the US Naval Air Station in Maryland to witness a demonstration by Boeing on the compatibility of its F-18 Super Hornet of taking off and landing from the decks of Indian aircraft carriers. However, the visit got delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
After evaluating every thing, a considered response by the Indian Navy, HQ IDS and the MoD should be as under :
• Ask HAL to go in for immediate production of Naval Tejas Mk1 and manufacture around 32 of them. These should be then utilized for providing air defence to the Carrier Battle Group, thus freeing up the MiG29Ks for strike. Also help provide experience for extending the flight envelope of our indigenous Naval fighters.
• Once VISHAL enters service, around 24x MiG29Ks will be available to arm it along with 16 x Tejas Mk1. Both VIKRAMADITYA and VIKRANT to will have 8x Tejas each with around 8 x MiG29Ks and around 8 each of Rafael/ F18.
• Revise the number of external purchase of naval fighters and reduce it to 36 only. These after evaluation and selection at the fastest speed possible and going through Govt to govt purchase will still take Not Less than say four years. Then add three tears when we start receiving the first lot. So all 36 should be in by say 2029-2030.
• Out of these 8 each can equip VIKRANT and VIKRAMADITYA to provide heavier strike punch and balance 20 to be on board VISHAL
• Finally it will be more prudent to go in for naval variant of Rafael, unless F18 Hornet proves more superior during technical evaluation trials. Unlike in the past, there is no need to appease any one in defence purchases not even the USA.