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India declines to buy British Harriers

The Indian Navy declines to buy eight British fighter jets that were phased out of the Royal Navy in March 2006.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2006 11:07 IST

The Indian Navy has declined to buy eight British Sea Harrier FA.2 fighter jets that were phased out of the Royal Navy in March 2006.

According to a report in the October issue of the defence magazine India Strategic, the eight Harriers, which were also the last to serve the Royal Navy, were on offer but without some vital components like missiles and the Blue Vixen fire control radar. The prime consideration was to use them to train pilots and to fill in the gaps caused by the loss of six Harriers in the Indian Navy due to accidents spread over more than 20 years.

Indian Navy pilots and defence ministry representatives inspected and assessed the aircraft for technical and financial evaluation but it was decided not to go in for them as the jets needed considerable expense in upgrading their avionics and arming them.

Published reports indicate that India has 22 Sea Harriers, 16 of them being the FRS.51 fighter version. They are to be gradually replaced by MiG-29K aircraft, some 40 to 50 of which are likely to be acquired from Russia.

India has already contracted to buy 16 MiG-29Ks as part of the deal with Russia to acquire the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, but more such aircraft would be needed as the Indian Navy grows to its required size and capability.

As for the Royal Navy Harriers, the Indian Navy was initially enthusiastic, but then felt that "devoid of their offensive systems, they wouldn't be of much use". For training "the navy is already considering either the BAe Hawks or Boeing/BAe Goshawks", a source said.

Indian Navy pilots are now being given advanced carrier takeoff and landing training at the US Navy's Pensacola facility to prepare them for the arrival of Gorshkov and MiG-29Ks.

This had become necessary as ironically, the Russians were unable to offer matching training facilities although they sold both the aircraft carrier and the MiG-29K jets.

Harrier jets played a decisive and proven role in the Falklands crisis of 1982. The last naval variant, the FA.2, was armed with US AIM 20 AMRAAM (advanced medium range air-to-air missile) and the Ferranti ARI.50019 Blue Vixen radar that enabled it to engage four targets simultaneously.

India had decided to buy the Harriers in the mid-1970s as part of its efforts to build a blue water navy, while their actual deliveries began in 1983.

The Indian Navy's 16 Sea Harrier FRS.51 fighter versions are now under a midlife upgrade with new air-to-air missiles as well as helmet-mounted target acquisition sights.

The Indian Navy Harriers originally were equipped with the Ferranti Blue Fox radar that had poor "look-down" capability compared to the Blue Vixen of the British Navy.

The Indian Navy plans to use the Sea Harriers till around 2020.

Engines for Indian Sea Harriers were supplied by Rolls Royce while the aircraft have been maintained and upgraded - as prime contractor - by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).