New Delhi: As US firm Boeing competes against France’s Dassault Aviation for Indian Navy’s mega fighter deal, Vice Chief Vice Admiral SN Ghormade Thursday said the new aircraft will only be an “interim arrangement” until the indigenous Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) gets ready.

The Navy made it clear that the force was only going to purchase 26 new fighters and a decision will soon be taken on whether it will procure the F/A -18 Super Hornet of Boeing or the Rafale M of Dassault Aviation.

The development comes as the Navy is set to commission its first indigenous aircraft carrier on 2 September, with fighter trials to start on board only by November this year.

While India will soon be operating two aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya and soon-to-be commissioned INS Vikrant – the fighters for them are not enough. India currently operates 42 MiG 29K of Russian origin but these have been plagued by serviceability issues, with indications that availability ratio of these aircraft is less than 45 per cent.

While the most promising timeline for indigenous TEDBF to start trials is five to seven years from now, the Navy would need additional fighters to fully operate two aircraft carriers in their true potential.

“There is a timeline that is there for the TEDBF. It will take about 5-7 years for its first flight and we need an interim aircraft. And hence the trials have been done and a report is being prepared,” Vice Admiral Ghormade said, while responding to a query on the aircraft carrier during a a press conference ahead of the commissioning of Vikrant.

He was referring to trials done by both Hornet and Rafale to showcase their ability to take off from the Indian aircraft carrier.

‘Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter Is Future of Navy’

Vice Admiral Ghormade made it clear that TEDBF was the future of the Navy and the force was working closely with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to make the project a success.

Asked about the availability of MiG 29K to operate from the two aircraft carriers, he said, “We have limited numbers. We will utilise them to be operationally deployed on the Vikrant. Normally, we are able to deploy 12 aircraft and we will do that.”

He said Navy personnel have been maintaining the aircraft and all necessary parts are being procured from Russia despite its ongoing war with Ukraine.

Speaking on the sidelines, Navy officers also confirmed that the force was looking at buying just 26 new fighters, either the Super Hornet or the Rafale M, and there would be no additions.

While the original plan was to buy 57 new fighters, the Navy has now decided to go for 26. However, sources underlined that any future plans of additional aircraft purchase will depend on how the TEDBF timelines are met because some of the MiG 29 Ks would be decommissioned over the next one decade.

The Navy was looking at procuring fighters on its own rather than with the Indian Air Force. 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.

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