15 LCA’s and 15 Mig-29s will soon arm under-construction Carrier INS Vikrant
India’s indigenous HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) will serve aboard the nuclear powered supercarrier, INS Vishal (currently under development), but will first see active service on the INS Vikrant now being fitted out and due to join the Indian Navy in December 2018.
The naval version of Tejas is the only fixed wing combat aircraft confirmed as part of both carriers’ combat air groups. Its key role will likely be as an attack aircraft launching precision guided missiles and bombs at enemy warships or ground targets.
Two Tejas naval prototypes successfully conducted test flights at the “Shore Based Test Facility” (a full-scale model of an aircraft carrier deck) in Goa.
The Ministry of Defense recently approved the acquisition of 40 Tejas’ for the IN and 83 for the Indian Air Force.
Tejas is a single-seat, single-jet engine, multi-role light fighter designed by HAL’s Aeronautical Development Agency for the IAF and the IN. Stealth features have been designed into Tejas, which can carry up to 4,000 kg of bombs and missiles and is armed with one GSh-23 twin-barreled autocannon.
The air group on the INS Vishal will consist of up to 55 aircraft: 35 fixed-wing combat aircraft and 20 helicopters. The fixed wings will be launched using a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system with the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology.
The technology is from U.S. defense contractor, General Atomics, which also produces the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) and is producing a version of an electromagnetic railgun for the U.S. Navy.
The role of aerial superiority fighter for the INS Vishal is up for grabs but what is certain is it won’t include the Mikoyan MiG-29K multirole fighter to be deployed aboard the INS Vikrant.
Leading contenders for this key role on the INS Vishal include France’s Dassault Rafale, a naval version of which (the Dassault Rafale M) already serves aboard the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, as part of French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale).
The Indian Cabinet last September approved a deal to buy 36 Rafale fourth-generation, multirole jets from Dassault Aviation as part of the air force’s ongoing force modernization program. IAF Rafales will be able to carry nuclear bombs.
The Rafales give India a weapon potent enough to deal with Pakistan’s U.S.-made General Dynamics F-16 air superiority fighter jets and the PAC JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters produced jointly by Pakistan and China.
The United States’ fifth generation stealth fighter, the Lockheed Martin’s F-35c Lightning II and the combat proven McDonnell Douglas F/A 18 Hornet that serves aboard all of the U.S. navy’s 10 Nimitz-class supercarriers are also in contention for the role of air superiority fighter aboard the INS Vishal.
The INS Vikrant will carry 15 MiG-29Ks and 15 Tejas’. There will also be 10 rotary wings aboard this carrier, including the Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning and control helicopters; the indigenous HAL Dhruv utility helicopter and the British-built Westland WS-61 Sea King transport utility helicopters.