As the race for the $ 10.4 billion Medium Multi-role combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal for the Indian Air Force (IAF) reaches its final stage, the last two contenders are leaving no stone unturned to influence and impress India to tilt the mega deal in their favor. In a recent development, BAE Systems as part of the European consortium EADS has offered India a choice to pioneer a project for a naval version of the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. EADS is one of the two contenders and it is offering Eurofighter Typhoon to India in the MMRCA race.
The European consortium EADS consists of four European partner companies and one of them, namely BAE Systems, has indicated that India can be a partner nation and lead the programme for creating the naval version of the Typhoon aircraft if Eurofighter Typhoon wins the MMRCA tender. Currently, Indian Navy operates the British Sea Harrier vertical-landing carrier-borne aircraft on board its lone aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. Out of the 30 Sea Harriers India has for INS Viraat, only about 10 are left in service, with the rest lost in air crashes. The Sea Harriers have been around for two decades.
According to BAE Systems, which is part of the consortium that has designed and built the Eurofighter Typhoon, India should be inclined in acquiring a modern carrier-borne aircraft such as the proposed naval version of the Typhoon. They further elaborated that the Typhoon, which is a shore-based combat jet, can be turned into a formidable carrier-borne aircraft if few changes are made. Some of the key changes will include a ski-jump take-off configuration due to the thrust-vectoring 90 KN (kilo Newton) engine that powers it. BAE System has also figured that strengthening of the undercarriage of the aircraft to assist in hard landings on a carrier's deck and fitting a carrier hook for arrested landings will enable Typhoon to become a potential carrier-borne aircraft.
While EADS may try to woo the Indian government by offering partnership for the naval variant Eurofighter Typhoon if it wins the MMRCA contract, it seems India has already set other plans afoot. The Indian Navy will induct the Russian-built Admiral Gorshkov or INS Vikramaditya in the next couple of years which will have MiG-29K naval fighter jets. In order to accommodate the MiGs, the vessel is being reconfigured into a ski-jump take-off but arrested landing (STOBAR) mode by the Russians. Even India’s indigenous aircraft carrier, which will be inducted in a few years, will house the MiG-29k. A total order for 45 MiG-29Ks for the two carriers has already been placed. In fact, India’s naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is also being touted as the future carrier-borne aircraft.
Despite being aware of the future acquisitions of India viz-a-viz aircraft carrier-based aircraft, BAE Systems is still hopeful that the sales pitch may work since India has plans to induct more aircraft carriers in the future. Besides, since the development of a carrier-borne aircraft will involve four other technologically advanced countries, it will definitely help India to design and develop new and advanced aircraft in the future.