Competition heats up for naval fighter deal ahead of Vikrant’s commissioning | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Competition heats up for naval fighter deal ahead of Vikrant’s commissioning

ByRahul Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aug 25, 2022 04:36 AM IST

India plans to buy 26 carrier-based fighters for Vikrant, the largest warship to be built in the country, through a government-to-government deal to meet the navy’s requirements, with the US firm competing with French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation that has pitched its Rafale-M jets to the Indian Navy.

Boeing, one of the two contenders for an Indian order for deck-based fighter jets, on Wednesday made a fresh pitch to equip the navy with its F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft and dovetailed its offer with the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) strategy, days ahead of the commissioning of indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant that will operate the new fighters.

The navy has an urgent requirement for new deck-based fighters, and hopes to shortlist one of the two contenders, navy officials said on the condition of anonymity.
The navy has an urgent requirement for new deck-based fighters, and hopes to shortlist one of the two contenders, navy officials said on the condition of anonymity.

India plans to buy 26 carrier-based fighters for Vikrant, the largest warship to be built in the country, through a government-to-government deal to meet the navy’s requirements, with the US firm competing with French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation that has pitched its Rafale-M jets to the Indian Navy.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to dedicate Vikrant to the country on September 2 in Kochi.

Boeing and Dassault demonstrated the capabilities of their aircraft to the navy at a shore-based test facility in Goa in June and January, respectively. Both claim to have met the navy’s requirements, and are hopeful of positive outcomes and an early decision.

“The Block III Super Hornet we are offering to the Indian Navy has the most advanced and critical capability. With its open architecture design and continuously evolving capability suite, the Super Hornet will outpace current threats, facilitate rapid capability insertion and has unmatched affordability,” said Steve Parker, vice president, bombers and fighters, Boeing Defense, Space and Security.

Boeing anticipates economic benefits of $3.6 billion to the Indian economy over 10 years if the Super Hornet is selected as the navy’s next carrier-based fighter, with continued investments in manufacturing, engineering and technology transfer, infrastructure, sustainment and training and skilling.

The selection of the Super Hornet will help boost investments in India’s defence industry in line with the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign, said Boeing India president Salil Gupte.

To be sure, the French side stresses that the Rafale-M brings commonality with the Indian Air Force’s 36 Rafale fighters, thus offering advantages related to training, maintenance and logistics support. While the Super Hornet operates from all 11 US Navy aircraft carriers, the Rafale-M is deployed on the French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

The navy has an urgent requirement for new deck-based fighters, and hopes to shortlist one of the two contenders, navy officials said on the condition of anonymity.

Questions have been raised about the serviceability of the MiG-29K fighters (India has imported 45 of these jets from Russia) that the existing aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya operates, and the Russia-Ukraine war hasn’t helped matters, said former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd).

“The navy definitely needs another fighter, especially now that we have two decks to operate from,” he added.

Like INS Vikramaditya, the fighters on board Vikrant will also use the ski-jump to takeoff and will be recovered by arrestor wires or what is known as STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) in navy parlance.

Vikrant will operate an air wing consisting of 30 aircraft including the new fighters, MiG-29Ks, Kamov-31 choppers, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and advanced light helicopters.

“Designed from its inception as a carrier-based fighter for high-loading, high stress operations, the Super Hornet will bring advanced capabilities that will help the Indian Navy meet emerging and future threats,” said Boeing’s India business development vice president Alain Garcia.

To be sure, Vikrant is yet to kick off fighter operations from its deck. Critical flight trials will be conducted in the coming months and will be a top priority for the navy.

Vikrant has put India in a select league as only the US, the UK, Russia, France and China have the capability to build aircraft carriers. It has been named after aircraft carrier INS Vikrant operated by the navy from 1961 to 1997.

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