New Delhi: The Indian Navy will enter into a government-to-government contract with either the US or French government for the purchase of over two dozen fighter aircraft, top Naval officers said Tuesday.
Sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the Navy was in the process of expediting a trial report into the operational demonstration by Rafale M of French firm Dassault Aviation and F/A 18 Super Hornet of American company Boeing.
The sources also said that the report should be completed within two months and further clarifications could be sought from the two companies in contention.
Following this, the Navy hopes to move the procurement proposal to the defence ministry by the end of 2022.
“The trials are being done because the Navy requires aircraft which can take off from carriers. The report (trial report) is yet to come in on the operational demonstration. They will expedite the report and we will process it,” Navy Vice Chief Vice Admiral S.N. Ghormade said, while responding to a question during a press conference in the national capital.
He was referring to an operational demonstration carried out by the Rafale M and the Super Hornets showcasing ski-jumps — a crucial take-off capability — from the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa in Goa, to demonstrate its ability to operate from Indian aircraft carriers.
Ghormade also spoke about the government-to-government contract and added that the Navy was seeing how the Indian defence industry ecosystem can benefit from it.
Numbers of aircraft undecided
While the Navy was initially looking at procuring 57 aircraft, the number currently stands at 26.
When asked how many aircraft the Navy was looking at procuring, Ghormade, however, said a final number would be decided in due course.
The Vice Chief also said the Navy was keen on the twin engine deck based fighter (TEDBF) that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on.
The Navy currently operates the Russian MiG 29K aircraft from INS Vikramaditya. A second aircraft carrier will be commissioned by 15 August this year.
Sources explained that the Navy was looking at only a minimum number of foreign aircraft to keep it operationally active while awaiting the delivery of TEDBFs. They also said that there are a lot of operational issues with MiG 29K and since some of them would be decommissioned over the next one decade, new fighters are needed.
‘Decent’ performance by both aircraft
The sources, however, refused to divulge how Rafale and Super Hornets have performed and only said that both aircraft are “decent”. The final report is likely to give more details of both aircraft.
They also said some clarifications would be needed from the companies and only then will the Navy select the fighter plane it wants.
The sources further added that once the proposal is sent to the defence ministry, they will push for faster processing since this is a priority project.
As reported by ThePrint earlier, the Navy is looking at procuring fighters on its own rather than with the Indian Air Force (IAF). In 2020, then Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh had said that the force was trying to work with the IAF for a possible joint procurement.