In the 2+2 dialogue 2020 held between the USA and India, the proposal for F/A-18 super hornet block – III for the Indian Navy has been put on the table again. This journey started with an RFI in 2017 for the purchase of 57 carrier-based multirole fighter aircraft. It is believed that F/A-18 and Rafale M are the front runners in the competition.

Currently, India has one aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and soon INS Vikrant will be commissioned. The pride of any aircraft carrier is its air wing. Both Vikramaditya and Vikrant can carry 26 fighter jets along with 10 helicopters. Currently Navy has 42 Mig-29 k in two squadrons, one is deployed on Vikramaditya and another on INS Hansa (shore-based facility).

What’s in Mig 29K ?

Mig-29k is a carrier-based swing-role medium-weight twin-engine 4.5 generation fighter aircraft. With the first flight in 1988 and the introduction in the 2010 Indian Navy was the first customer, a combination of 45 Mig-29 K/KUB were purchased and 3 three of them have crashed.

It has been derived from the Mig-29 M family after reinforcement of undercarriage along with other modifications to make it carrier-capable. Two Klimov RD-33MK afterburning turbofan engines (Same as Mig 35) with 88 kN of max thrust can push it to Mach 2+ speeds. It has a max take-off weight of 24,000 kg and a combat radius of 850 km.

The aircraft can carry a payload of 5,500 KG on 8 hardpoints. The combination of 4 Kh-31A/AD or Kh-35U/UE in an antishipping role with Kh-31P/PD in an anti-radiation role can wreck carnage on any fleet. The air to air capability will be significantly boosted with Astra over its existing R77.

Overall, there is no doubt about its capability but there have been serious concerns about its maintenance.

Maintainability of Mig 29K

The audit in December 2014 revealed that many engines (approx. 60 percent of the stock available at that time) were either withdrawn from service or were rejected due to design-related defects or deficiencies, also the delivery of these engines started around 2010 so they were not old. This was the reason why Migs had to land using single-engine around ten times.

There have been reports of defects in airframe and very poor reliability of the fly-by-wire system as well. All these problems have seriously affected its availability, according to the CAG report of 2016 the availability of Mig-29K is not even 40 percent.

How deep are Navy’s Pocket?

We have discussed the carrier vs submarine in detail. Thus, we believe the IAC 2 is very crucial for the Indian Navy. However, the second Indigenous carrier (INS Vishal) likely may get pushed to later this decade, saving some extra CAPEX allocation with the Indian Navy.

Though with the limited funds Indian navy will have to decide if they wish to peruse an indigenous fighter project or buy from a foreign source. Since Indian Airforce likely will not join the program that was to spin an airforce variant of twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF) as ORCA (Omni Role Combat Aircraft), thus Indian navy will have to share a larger share in the project capital.

Buy or Make?

Though it may be possible for the Indian Navy to convince the Indian airforce to join the Indigenous development program. However, the requirements of both forces are different. The Indian Airforce requires an economical fighter jet to make up the numbers with “More bang for the buck”. On contrary, the Indian navy requires a fighter jet with cutting-edge technology that can dominate the sea in presence of enemy carriers.  Though the chances are, the forces may agree and come on board to share the cost especially considering the latest unified push.

The issue however is the timelines of the TEDBF as the fighter jet is a decade away. The first indigenous carrier has completed the basin trial and likely to hit the sea trial by December 2020. The aircraft carrier will require 26 fighter jet to form its air wing.

Currently, the Indian navy has 42 Mig 29K/KUB in two squadrons. Usually, a squadron is based on INS Vikramaditya while another one is based on shore-based facility INS Hansa. To simplify the calculation let’s assume (Highly unlikely) the availability of the Mig29K is 80% thus at a given time 34 fighter jets are available and this number isn’t enough for both the carrier.

CGI – Twin Engine Deck Based fighter – Credit on Picture

More Mig 29K or New fighter jet

The choice between the existing Mig29K vs a new type of fighter jet is not easy. Since the Indian Navy is operating the MIG29 K already the requirements like Spares, Logistics, Training, and weapon can be addressed at a lower cost but buying Mig29K in the year 2022 is synonymous to vouch that the Indian Navy will be operating Mig 29K even in 2042 (Average age of a Naval fighter jet is 20 years, followed by a major refit).

Buying a Rafale or a Super hornet poses a similar threat however these fighter jets will be upgraded with time. The Upgrade requirement in the case of Mig29K will be more eminent and thus India can exercise other means to acquire these fighter jet. The upgrade cost of Rafale or Super hornet should also be considered along with the option to integrate the future platform of Indian. Future platforms like Drone Swarms (Alpha S), Wingman drone, or Ghatak UCAV integration will push the current generation fighter into the next-generation category. The integration of these platforms with a Rafale or Super hornet should be evaluated.

Getting used (If available) Mig 29K offers an economical option that allows the Indian navy to operate this Mig 29K for another 8-10 years and then replace the Migs from both the carriers in 2030 onwards with TEDBF.

Production of TEDBF or What is the TEDBF is delayed?

 Often when talking about the project of high importance executed by the defense public sector companies, the thing that stands out is timeline overrun. If the Navy decides to peruse twin-engine deck-based fighter jet and the system is not available by 2030 then it will pose a serious operational problem for the Indian navy.

However, with the experience of Tejas MK2 and onboard private partners, the delay in TEDBF is highly unlikely. If the twin-engine deck-based fighter jet hits production in 2030 then the aircraft for both the carrier will require at-least 5 years if the production rate is 24 aircraft per year. Thus, the Mig29K can be decommissioned in a phased manner from 2030 onwards.

Buying Rafale or Super hornet for stop gap

The obvious concern is the Mig29K is one of the finest naval aircraft available in the Indian Ocean region, but will the aircraft retain the edge till 2030? Acquiring 36 Rafale or Super hornet can provide the much-needed breather to the Indian navy as they can take on the best fighter jets from the Chinese arsenal at least for another 10 – 15 years.

This will also help the Navy to phase out the older aircraft till all the Twin engine deck-based fighter can be produced. However, if the 36 Rafale or Super hornet are acquired and TEDBF is to just replace the 40 odd Mig 29K of Vikramaditya then economically TEDBF doesn’t remain viable, though the equation changes if INS Vishal will have TEDBF. The Indian navy will have to make a decision, do they want a futuristic fighter jet or an aviation ecosystem for the future.

Options that Indian Navy has

The Indian navy has three options, and each has its own advantage and disadvantages. The leadership in the navy and MoD will have to evaluate each and decide what trade-off they want.

  1. 57 Carrier borne fighter jet – The Indian navy can acquire 57 fighter jet from abroad. This could be FA18 Super Hornet Blk III or Rafale Marine. The issue with the Rafale M is wing foldability, its wing isn’t foldable, and modification will be heavy on pocket. On the other hand, super hornet will have a completely new weapon package that will have logistical implications.
  2. More Mig 29K: Since the Indian Navy is operating Mig 29K already, acquiring some more will be comparatively cheaper. The weapons, spares, and training will be light on the pocket. However, the Mig 29K is half a generation behind FA18 block III or Rafale M. Acquiring Mig 29K in 2023 may not be a good technological investment, though the capabilities can be boosted with the integration of indigenous weapons like Brahmos NG, Rudra M, Astra, and Astra 2.
  3. Naval LCA: Though the Indian Navy isn’t interested in Naval LCA and want a twin-engine jet. The Naval LCA can be a breather jet saving much-needed capital. Navy needs a jet that can fly for more than 2 hours with 4 missiles and NLCA does not fit in that requirement. However, a mix of Mig 29K and NLCA on the carrier can provide the Indian Navy the time so envisioned TEDBF can be designed and produced.

The current situation actually highlights the planning lapse, the Indian military planners should have initiated the twin-engine deck-based fighter a little earlier. This would have enabled the production of the fighter jet while INS Vikrant was in the sea trials.

Harsh Kumar

Writes about Military hardware, technology and strategy.

By Alpha Defense

Alpha Defense initially a solo venture but now a defense group by people from various demographics of India covering defense news and updates. We believe in unbiased analysis of every subject in hand. Our mission is to provide simplfiied defense information to the public.

5 thoughts on “TEDBF or 57 Imported Jets?”
  1. The General Electric F110-GE-129 engine delivers 131 kN (29,400 lbf) of afterburning thrust.
    The F110-GE-132 – the newest in the F110 series engines, delivers the highest available thrust in its class – 144 kN (32,500 lbf) of afterburning thrust.
    It continues to be installed on Lockheed Martin F-16E/F aircraft, incl.
    the United Arab Emirates’ Block 60.
    The HAL Tejas Mk-1A will be powered by the F404-GE-IN20 turbofan engine with just 85 kN (19,000 lbf) thrust.
    For the single engine NLCA, HAL and ADA should consider the feasibility of replacing the F404-GE-IN20 with the F110-GE-132 (or even F110-GE-129). That would give the NLCA 59 kN of addl. thrust. Maybe this will enable the NLCA to satisfy the Navy’s need for a jet that can fly for more than 2 hours with 4 missiles.

    1. Dear ST Mumbai :
      The F110-GE-132 even exists in 145kN version ONLY for Emirati F-16V but… Maybe should you take a look at the sizes and weight of such engines. As F100-PW-229, F110-GE-129 has been created to compensate the drag and overweight of conformal tanks on F-16C/D and F-15E.
      With the rather small F404 (which can be replaced by F414), Tejas already lacks 1000L internal fuel by lack of internal room and F404/414 is only 89cm diameter for 3.9m long and 2.43m³ of volume for 1050kg!!!
      And you want to replace it with a 5.90m long, 128cm diameter 2000kg, 6.45m³ F110-GE-132.
      Be aware that just to stretch Gripen’s airframe from Gripen-C to Gripen-E, replacing F404 by F414 and adding a few hundreds liters of fuel, Gripen-E demonstrator took the airs in 2008. We’re in 2021 and Gripen-E is several years from being fully operational.
      Moreover, a F-16 operating cost is the double of a Rafale with two small M88/75kN =150kN : it’s more than $22000 per hour while Rafale costs $10-12k per hour. Super-Hornet with two F414 costs $24000/h, a F-15C with two F100 or F110 costs $41k+/h, even more than a Su-30…
      BTW, guess how much room two M88 take? Just a little more than one F404/414 : 2.68m³… This means that a single M88 takes 1.34m³ in volume for less than 70cm diameter and 3.53m long but, guess what? On DRDO’s request, 3 M88 with 98kN thrust were delvered to India… In fact, M88 can be delivered up to 115kN afterburner thrust and up to 100kN dry thrust… it’s also 153kg lighter than F404 and 223kg lighter than F414 and you can add more than 1100L internal fuel
      Be aware that Emirati Mirage-2000-9 is fit with a 100kN version of M53 and carries 6.8t payload while empty weight is 7.8t. According to Dassault, with M88 and a well made reinforcement of airframe, Tejas empty weight can be reduced to 6100kg… 1700kg lighter than a Mirage-2000-9…
      In fact, if you want an engine even more ridiculous than F110, why not fitting the NK-321? After all, hadn’t the Yakovlev Yak-43 been cancelled with the fall of the USSR, the 5th gen version of the Yak-41M was planned to use the Tu-160’s 245kN engine !!!!
      I enjoin you to inform yourself at how this engine is ridiculously huge!
      Actually, the F-35’s F135 is smaller ye more powerful than the F110-GE-132… And 2 thirds of F-35 fleet is grounded due to F135 issues…
      How many missions a F-15 or F-16 can perform per 24h using F100 or F110? 3-4 in intensive use! It’s 4 missions when you use F404/414
      How many missions a Rafale using M88 can perform? 5-6 in normal use, 11 in intensive use and with 95% availabilty in war conditions (proven by 9 Rafale-M being catapulted 100x a day during the 2011 Libyan campaign!)
      Do you only know how much fuel engines like the F100 or F110 burn? In afterburner, it’s about 200kg/h per kiloNewton… At 145kN, it’s close to 29 tons. Using a M88/115kN with 100kN dry thrust only means only 7900kg of fuel per hour. Thanks to M88 size, with extended internal fuel, you can expect to fly Tejas for 30min at Mach 1.8-2…
      For your information, Rafale’s demonstrator used F404. It only took 6 months to Dassault to replace these by M88 and validate M88 for Rafale’s demonstrator! But guess what? The Rafale demonstrator was longer and with F404, couldn’t allow more fuel than a F-16 onboard!
      Let’s suppose you fit Tejas-M with a 115kN version of M88, it can take off from INS Vikramditya with as much payload as a F-16V and for CAP job, can fly Mach2 in supercruise! Actually, the afterburner might end reserved for take-off as I doubt that the thermoplastics used for the skin will love a mach 2.5-2.9 air friction! Be aware that with two F100-PW-220 with 105.7kN each, a 12,701kg empty/30,844 kg MTOW F-15C can be pushed to Mach2.5… Here we’re talking about 115kN on a 6100kg empty Tejas… MiG-25 was 20t empty with 36,720 kg MTOW w. 2x 100.1 kN afterburner engines and could be pushed to Mach2.83 w.o. risk, but its steel airframe was stable up to 900°C and some areas had to deal with 750°C. Steel fusion temperature is around 1400-1500°C…
      You know, most of modern jets are no more Mach2 capable because customers don’t want to pay for Mach-2+ OK materials!
      Guess what? A M88 in 115kN has less thrust than the Su-30’s engine… But it’s also 623kg lighter and less fuel thirsty with higher dry thrust… In the end, Su-30MKI would keep the same performances but… M88 would cut the hourly cost from $35,000 to about $15,000… 480h a year to keep 3 pilots available per airframe, 272 Su-30 in IAF, do your maths, just fitting M88 on Su-30 wuld spare about $2.6bn a year, the flyaway cost of 36 Rafales…
      Remember : money is the nerve of war… Unless you can dilapidate like the USA or PRC, you need to keep cost efficiency in mind!
      If GE was able to create cost efficient engines, they’d NEVER had associated with Safran to produce the Safran’s M56 in the USA as… CFM56, same for the CFM LEAP

  2. First, further Rafale orders may not be imported : Dassault+Ambani have opened an aircraft factory, 5000 techs+engineers have been trained, HAL+Safran already operate an engine factory for decades and France gave green light for the M88 production in India. More than 200 Dassault subcontractors have already settled in India, it’s up to govt to get Rafale-MKI, anyway, HAL is not even able to deliver the 8 Tejas a year their assembly line is supposed to deliver… Well, with IAF estimating its needs to 324 Tejas, you can wait 40 years + before you can replace old Bisons and Jaguars (and already retired MiG-21/23/27).

    Between the first flight of a demonstrator and the introduction of a jet fighter not even fully combat capable, it takes about 15 years if everything runs smooth… And…
    There is neither TEDBF nor Tejas Mk2 demonstrator flying… Let’s suppose both get airborne in 2022, this means 2037 to have pre-series in low rate production to be introduced and 2040 to start the deliveries of a mass production… And this is with companies like Sukhoi, MiG, Dassault, Saab, Boeing… Now you have nightmare companies like BAe, Mockhead Fartin or HAL… Between its introduction and the fully combat capable F-22, it took 13 years! F-22 is only fully capable since 2018!!!! And ambitions had been cut : no IRST, no lateral radars and very limited strike capabilities!
    Boeing is unable to deliver the ASH (Advanced Super Hornet) for some good reason: they’d need to use French patents, same for the F-15SE Silent Eagle.
    HAL can use Rafale’s tech on Tejas but doesn’t wants since they’d have to sell aircraft at honest prices and start a real production, Boeing would love to gain access but ends with a buzz-off and so would it be for Lock-Mart : these are playing dirty for decades trying to sink EU’s aerospace industries, they can dream on gaining any ToT from the French who would be happy if these were doing any patent breach because in capitalist USA, patent breaches are no option, the patent owner will have your a$$ for lunch! USA can always buy Rafale if they want a good aircraft!
    Boeing may sell Super-Hornet to bootlickers but any country with serious defense issues can only reject : Super-Hornet has no future!
    MiG-29K is a Lemon and INAA doesn’t even tries to hide it!
    Now guess what? Just fit Tejas with the M88/98kN engine and within 6 months, you get an aircraft with better performances than a MiG-29.
    Listen to DRDO+Dassault proposals to modify Tejas then there is no need for a Mk2 nor for a TEDBF as Tejas Mk1/Tejas-M can do better than MiG-35 or Mrage-2000-9 within 2 years while it’d take 15 years at best to Make a Mk2 and a TEDBF which won’t do better than Mirage-2000 or Rafale as HAL relies on way inferior engines…
    You know what? If you go on with India’s broken military acquisition system, I’d advise you to directly give the third of the country to P0rkistan and 2 thirds to Chinese commies, then to all those not willing to live under the iron boot of the fascist CCP or ending beheaded by JeM or LeT on Youtube to pack enough money to move to South-Murica, Africa, Russia, Australia, N-Zealand, Canada, etc, because India’s armed forces won’t be able to cope and you can be sure some crooked politician will prefer to sell the country rather than fighting and pushing the button, I mean the big red one that grows mushrooms up to the stratosphere, because of lack of “Liberty or Death” mindset which is necessary to back an efficient nuclear deterrent…

    Frankly, BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, India should consider to fast-track the building of 525x W56 Mod.4 : 1.2 x 0.44m; 310kg 1.2 megaton. and 100x W59 : 1.21 x 0.43m; 250kg; 1 megaton… Then… Have 100x W56 mounted into modified SCALP-EG, 425 mounted into Kh-101 and 100x W59 mounted into BrahMos, BrahMos-NG, Nirbhay or SCALP… Note that both SCALP and Kh-101 are stealth.
    Create 11 ejection systems to extract and launch 25x Kh-101 from C-17; 17 systems for 18 Kh-101 on Il-76MD. It has to be the best kept military secret in the country, as well as the nuke tipped SCALPs (because it would pose serious issues due to the fact France has ratified NPT)…

    Then, order 57 Rafale-Ms, 171 Rafale-C/Bs and have an option for 126 more Rafales because 57 Rafale-C/Bs will be exported to… Taiwan, and with 100 cruise missiles at $25 millions per missile, all loaded with a W59. Note that TW and India shall NOT make the sale of warheads public: TW would engage in a nuclear ambiguity policy similar to Israel…
    All Rafale-TW would be delivered with two 1150L conformal tanks, 1 3000L drop tank and two 2000L ones. All hardpoints would be like the Old F-4 ones except these would be adapted to Meteor LRAAM and MICA/MICA-NG
    https://www.zupimages.net/up/21/14/1wt0.jpg
    So, even with heavy strike payload and long range fuel load, any Rafale can carry 12 Meteors and 4 MICAs… If a more air superiority payload is wished, you can fit a TER with 3 more Meteors per main hardpoint, maybe even stack two for 4 or 5 more, also note that Rafale-F4 upgrade will get more powerful engines.
    You may ask… Why getting 100 SCALP and 425 Kh-101 with a 1.2Mt warhead for India and 100 others with 1Mt warhead for TW?
    Well, 1st, SCALP ranges 560km with a 1300kg weight (450kg warhead onboad). Kh-101 is said ranging 4500km. both are stealth. BrahMos and BrahMs-NG ranges are not clear, Nirbhay ranges 1000km.
    Then, with a (very common) 8km/h wind, in case of surface blast, 1 megaton covers 18,000km²+ with fallouts and about 22,000km² for 1.2 megatons.
    Pak is about 882,000km² in area, about 1.25M km² of PRC is within 500km of India+Nepal borders with PRC while the coastline being around 3500km, a 500km depth means 1.75M km².
    The logic is : PRC did proliferation on P0rkistan to pi$$-off India, India pi$$es off CCP.
    Then, with 525x 1.2Mt, you fully cover ChinPak with falouts…
    A CREDIBLE DETERRENT IS NOT JUST BEING ABLE TO HURT, IT’S ABOUT HAVING A DAMOCLES SWORD SUSPENDED OVER THE ENEMY’S HEAD. GET WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE 10.5 MILLIONS SQUARE KILOMETRES A HUGE RADIOACTIVE PARKING LOT THEN YOUR DETERRENT IS CREDIBLE.
    Actually, even some brinkmanship, like showing SSBNs surfacing at their doorstep or Rafale-Ms rehearsing such kind of mission : https://zupimages.net/up/21/15/efff.jpg
    There are other things where attitude should change…
    It’s now clear that it were French Rafales that demolished Turkish air defences in Libya twice last July. France didn’t bragged about the strikes at all, the AF denied being implied (it was more likely naval aviation, LOL, you don’t have aircraft spotters around or a pilots’ bar close to the base)… In a case like Balakot done by FrAF, thermobarics would had razed anything and the AF would had denied, maybe even saying “you know, you need B-2 or J-20 or Su-57 to do this, you know, Pak has created itself many enemies by backing terrorist organsations”, LOL

  3. What about buying 18 used hornets from uae or usa or australian navies . This way we can reduce the cost and foldable wing problem and can also retire it by 2035 when tedbf and amca are ready to induct

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