The Indian Naval air arm is set to double its fleet of 217 aircraft in the next decade. The fleet–a mix of 14 models–“has emerged as a mini air force,” said assistant chief of naval staff (Air) Rear Admiral D.M. Sudan.
On May 11 the Navy will commission the first of three MiG-29K squadrons at its base in Goa. One is for training. The 16 aircraft originally ordered have all been delivered, as have four of a further 29. They will fly from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (previously Admiral Gorshkov), which has taken five years longer than planned to be refitted. Later, they will also fly from the Indian-built aircraft carrier (IAC-1), which is under construction in Kochi in Kerala. The MiG-29Ks are replacing Sea Harriers that previously received a limited upgrade. The VTOL aircraft will be phased out within two years.
The Navy is in the process of introducing 17 BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers, which will be based on the East Coast beginning in July. At the end of the year, the Navy will take delivery of the first of eight Boeing P-8I Poseidons to replace Tu-142s in the long-range maritime patrol mission.
The Navy’s main helicopter fleet of Westland Sea King Mk 42Cs was decommissioned even as the RFP for 16 new multirole helicopters was released. Finalists Sikorsky (SH-70) and NH Industries (NH-90) are in the process of “completing the discussions on offsets,” Sudan told AIN. On whether the controversy over the AW101 helicopter buy could delay the decision, Sudan said, “The government has to make a call.”
Concerns about the suitability of the HAL Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) remain. “The Navy has given [HAL] a lot of support, but the helicopter needs a blade fold and that it is unable to do…so we can’t take it onto our ships,” said Sudan.
Future indigenous buys include the naval version of the HAL light combat aircraft (LCA). The prototype flew last year and carrier compatibility trials are scheduled before year-end at the Navy’s shore-based testing facility in Goa. “This is a critical test as [we will then know] if it can take off from and land on the carrier…We have grand plans for the LCA if it meets our requirements,” said Sudan.