NEW DELHI:After the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Indian Navy is looking at acquiring close to 100 aircraft in a mix of fighters, patrol planes and trainers by 2020.
On the shopping list are 40 to 50 MiG-29K fighters, 30 long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft and 10-15 Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJTs), navy chief Admiral Arun Praksh told India Strategic magazine in an interview.
According to him, as the IAF was acquiring the Hawk trainers, it was logical for the navy to go in for either the same aircraft or its naval variant, the British-US Goshawk.
Both aircraft were under serious consideration and the choice - and their number - would be finalised by naval headquarters after evaluating the necessary parameters.
The navy needs trainers for the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov it has acquired from Russia and which is due to join the fleet in 2008 as INS Vikramaditya. Ironically, however, the Russians could not extend carrier landing training to the navy and it thus had to go to the US, providing Washington an opportunity to offer it the Goshawk.
Thirty-two Indian Navy pilots have already been assigned to receive carrier takeoff-and-landing training on Goshawks at the US Navy's Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, where all US naval pilots receive initial and advanced training. The Indian pilots are being sent in batches of four, beginning earlier this year.
"We are essentially committed to buying the Hawk. After the air force run is over, it will be the navy's turn.
"As for the Goshawk, while Boeing has made an offer, we have to get a formal offer from the US State Department. And while there is a change in the US mindset, they often consider these things on a case-to-case basis," Prakash maintained.
Equipped with arrester hook, Goshawk is a strengthened variant for carrier takeoff and landing built by Boeing and BAE Systems with substantial commonality of parts.
Boeing is responsible for the forward fuselage and stabilisers, assembly and systems integration, production test flights and maintenance. BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) produces the wings and the centre and rear fuselage while Rolls Royce makes the Adour engines, similar to the ones that power IAF's Jaguars built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Raytheon provides the simulators.
It may be noted that the IAF, which is buying 66 Hawks from Britain, is responsible for giving advanced fighter training to the Indian Navy. HAL would manufacture two-thirds of these aircraft with progressively indigenous content.
As for the MiG-29Ks, an advanced fourth generation fighter, Prakash said the navy was buying one squadron of these jets right now, "but eventually we are talking about 40 to 50 aircraft". He added that the navy was also looking at the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
An aviator and a carrier pilot with 2,500 hours of flying an assortment of aircraft - and a veteran of the 1971 India-Pakistan war - Prakash said the navy periodically redefined its perspective and requirements. Accordingly, it was currently looking at eight LRMPs, but by around 2020 their number was expected to go up to 30.
Whatever the navy would buy would be done after careful consideration of what is available, what is on board, what is the lifecycle cost, availability of spares and some other parameters.
Given this, the navy might not be able, for instance, to buy an aircraft like the Boeing-737 P-8 MMA (multi mission aircraft) or the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion if it is not equipped with the best of the avionics and missiles like the Harpoons.
Reliable sources in Washington said the US government is yet to clear the Harpoons for India - although both Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been given the go-ahead to negotiate for the sale of their aircraft.
For that matter, the two companies are yet to receive clearance to include their respective radars in the F-18 Super Hornet and F-16 Falcons being offered to the IAF for its sanctioned requirement of 126 multi-role jets.
"We have floated an RFP (request for proposal) for the patrol aircraft and we have responses from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, (Russia's) Ilyushin and Airbus. We currently have five IL-38s but the RFP is for eight more aircraft. We still need more, though. By 2020, we shall need 30 aircraft or so," Prakash said.
Lockheed Martin says it can supply the Orions almost immediately with modifications as required by the Indian Navy. Boeing says its B-737 MMA is a futuristic and faster aircraft, although it will not be in the market before 2009.
Despite the timeframe, a Boeing spokesperson said the company was "confident that our offer will meet the India Navy schedule and mission requirements".