In a major boost to the Indian Navy's aviation fleet, the Indian Defence
Ministry's Acquisition Council has approved the procurement of nine Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) planes worth $1-billion and the limited series production of another nine carrier-borne Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the presently-being-built Indian Aircraft Carrier that will join the fleet some time in 2015.
Defence Minister AK Antony-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) gave the nod to these two approvals at its last meeting, when it also considered reforms in the defence offsets policy for which discussions remained inconclusive.
The DAC, senior officials said, gave its Acceptance of Necessity for nine MRMR aircraft after evaluating data provided by global vendors in response to the Request for Information (RFI) issued almost a year ago.
The original requirement was said to be six, but now it has been increased to nine. This MRMR aircraft is going to be over and above the 12 P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft that India is buying from US major Boeing for over $3 billion.
The MRMR deal will also have an option for additional planes if the Indian Navy feels a need for more. The Request for Proposals or tenders will be issued in another three to six months, officials said here.
India had issued the MRMR RFI to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ATR, SAAB, Airbus, Casa, Embraer, Bombardier, and Dassault.
The nine LCA-Navy for the 40,000-tonne IAC will be produced by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). IAC, which is presently under construction in Kochi-based Cochin Shipyard, will deploy about 30 combat plane in the ski jump but arrested recovery configuration.
The LCA-Navy prototypes have General Electric F404 engines providing about 80 kiloNewtons of power that the Indian Navy feels is inadequate for a carrier-borne combat plane. As a result, the HAL-produced LCA-Navy may be powered by GE F414 engines that provides 90 kiloNewton thrust to meet the navy requirements.
The LCA-navy is likely to go through first flight next month followed by other necessary approvals for final operational clearance in the next three-four years. It is expected to be ready to induct 30 planes by the time IAC is ready for induction in 2015.
The LCA-Navy achieved a significant milestone in its development with the first successful ground-run of its engine in September last year.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) variant of LCA is already under production, with HAL bagging orders for seven squadrons or 140 planes of which first 40 will have F404 engines and the rest 100 F414 engines. The first set of LCA squadrons of the IAF will be based in Sulur near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.