Indian Naval Fighter RFI

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet is a likely contender for the Indian Navy’s Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter programme. Dan Stijovich

The Indian Ministry of Defence has issued a formal request for information (RFI) to fighter manufacturers for the supply of 57 Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) aircraft for the Indian Navy. Responses to the RFI, released in mid-January, from interested companies must be submitted by May 24, according to local media reports.

The requirement is for an all-weather fighter, capable of operating from the decks of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers with capability to undertake the air-to-air and air-to-surface roles. Indian reports suggest the aircraft must also be capable of buddy refuelling – as both a donor and receiver - and have a substantial weapons capability.

Any bid will also have to comply with India’s requirements for technology transfer and local manufacture.

The RFIfollows on from the comments made in December by India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, in which he turned his back on the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Admiral Landa described the Tejas as ‘unsuitable for carrier operations’ aboard Indian Navy aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and Vikrant, because it falls short of requirements, particularly in terms of weight, but said that he would continue to support the development programme. At the time of his announcement, made shortly after his appointment, Lanba predicted the new competition. (see Fighters, More Fighters and Close Air Support – Developments in Asia, AIR International February 2017).

Likely contenders include the Boeing F/A- 18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and RAC MiG-29K, however Saab has previously considered the possibility of developing a naval variant of its JAS 39 Gripen. The MiG-29K is already operated by the Indian Navy, which are embarked aboard the current aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya. The Gripen is also a contender in India’s refreshed Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition for the Indian Air Force, which specifies a singleengine fighter which is to be built locally.

The Swedish manufacturer is competing with Lockheed Martin, which is understood to have offered the Block 70 F-16 Fighting Falcon. The initial requirement is for 200 aircraft, but Indian Air Force sources indicate this number could reach 300, in a deal estimated to be around $15 billion. India is already acquiring 36 Rafales through a government to government agreement with France, after the original MMRCA programme (which required 126 fighters) became bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

The Rafale deal received a boost on January 27, when India’s Competition Commission approved a proposed joint venture between local manufacturer Reliance Aerostructures and Dassault Aviation, a key component of the offset requirements imposed by the Indian Government. Under the arrangement, Dassault will own 49% of the joint venture.