New Air Stations Extend Indian Navy’s Operational Reach
To extend the operational reach of Indian naval aviation, several new air stations are being activated. In 2012, the IN commissioned its eighth air station, INS Baaz (NAS Campbell Bay), a forward operating base (FOB) in the Nicobar Islands near the geo-strategic Malacca Straits, a key choke point for international shipping. Another FOB, NAS Shibpur in Diglipur, located in the North Andamans, is due to have its runway extended from 3,200 feet to 12,000 feet to “support all types of aircraft and night-flying operations,” according to local media reports. A number of other air stations are planned in the Lakshadweep islands and elsewhere.
Future Carrier Fighter
Even as it inducts the MiG-29K, the IN is seeking another carrier-borne naval fighter to operate from its future carrier, the 65,000 ton Vishal, which is likely to have a CATOBAR configuration with an EMALS catapult possibly sourced from General Atomics.
Around 55-60 fighters are required in all, though induction timelines are not clear. Contenders include Boeing’s Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter’s Naval Typhoon and Saab’s Sea Gripen – the last two being “paper designs.” Lockheed Martin has also made several presentations on the F-35B/C to the Indians as well. In the longer term, a naval variant of the 5th generation Indo-Soviet FFGA fighter may yet see the light of day.
With an eye on UCAV operations from its future carrier, the IN is keenly following UCAV developments too. Local media quoted an IN officer as saying “we could greatly expand our mission envelope with UCAVs, using the pilotless aircraft for high risk reconnaissance and SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses). India’s DRDO is understood to be working on at least one UCAV, codenamed AURA.
By 2028, Indian Naval Aviation will very likely have grown in size to include 450+ aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). A breakdown of its assets would include more than 100 fighters in five squadrons – sufficient for three carrier air wings. There would also be around 40 fast jet trainers. Airborne ISR assets would likely comprise around 60-70 MPA, including 20-24 P-8I, at least 12 medium range MPA, and 30 or so shorter range MPA. These would be complemented by as many as 16-24 large multirole seaplanes. AEW&C types in service are likely to number 8-12 fixed wing aircraft like the Grumman E-2D and at least 14 Kamov AEW types, although an AEW version of the Osprey could be selected. The helicopter fleet is likely to number around 250 platforms, including 75 naval utility helicopters and 150 multirole helicopters.
The current fighter pilot training pipeline is overtaxed because of a limited number of training slots with the IAF as well as the lack of a modern fast jet trainer. The aging HJT-16 Kiran Mk 2 trainers will finally be replaced by 17 locally assembled BAE Hawk Mk. 132 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) commencing in 2013. A second AJT squadron is to be formed, so up to 40 Hawks may eventually be acquired. In addition, the IN is mulling over the idea of outsourcing ab-initio pilot training to a private entity.
New Helicopters for Indian Naval Aviation
Helicopters will form the bulk of new acquisitions. Close to 200 new helicopters are required according to various RfIs and tenders (RfPs) issued by the Directorate of Aircraft Acquisition (DAA) at Naval Headquarters.
In the near term, a decision – between the European NH-90 and Sikorsky’s S-70B – is pending for the 16 helicopter (with 8 options) Multi Role Helicopter (MRH) tender.
There’s also a follow-on RfI for 123 Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH). Sikorsky with its MH-60R/S and S-70B, Agusta Westland, Eurocopter with its EC 725 Caracal and NH-90, and Russian Helicopters with Kamov offerings are eagerly awaiting a formal tender (RfP) for this lucrative contract.