Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF)
By December 2016 the navy had ruled out deploying indigenously built light combat aircraft Tejas on its aircraft carriers, saying it is “not being able to meet the requirements”. Citing “overweight” as one of the reasons for ruling out Tejas for India’s aircraft carriers, Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, told the Hindustan Times 03 December 2016 the navy is looking at procuring an alternative aircraft.
By mid-2017 the Indian Navy began examining quotes it received from four global manufacturers for 57 multirole combat aircraft. Dassault Aviation, Boeing, SAAB and Rosoboronexport have responded to the global request for information (RFI) issued 17 January 2017. Apart from some basic guidelines for procurement, the Indian Navy had sought answers on a range of issues like electronic warfare capability, endurance and payload. The Navy was also desirous of licensed production of the aircraft after acquiring transfer of technology in the case. "We have received the reply from all the four to whom RFI had been issued. Now, we will examine the RFI and will take it forward," Admiral Sunil Lanba, Indian Navy chief said on 31 May 2017.
Multi-role fighters are intended as day-night capable; all-weather multi-role deck based combat aircraft which can be used for air defense, air-to-surface operations, buddy refueling, reconnaissance, and EW missions from Indian Naval aircraft carriers. Solicitation issued on January had asked global vendors if it can perform Short Take-off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) or Catapult Take-off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) operations, or both.
Swedish SAAB was pitching its single engine Sea Gripen which has capability to operate from both STOBAR/CATOBAR while Russian upgraded MiG-29K can operate from STOBAR. Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault's Rafale M were also competition for approximately $15 billion contract.
The 17 January 2017 Request for Information stated that the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, intended to procure approximately 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) for aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy (IN). The MRCBF are intended as day and night capable, all weather multi-role deck based combat aircraft which can be used for Air Defence (AD), Air to Surface Operations, Buddy Refuelling, Reconnaissance, EW missions etc from IN aircraft carriers.
Operational Clean Configuration (OCC) implies carriage of four Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and two All Aspect Air-to-Air Missiles (A4M) with 75 % internal fuel and 100 % gun ammunition. Clean Configuration implies the aircraft with no external load and full internal fuel and gun ammunition.
The RFI was quite granular, posing hundreds of questions, such as "What is the max external payload (state configurations including buddy refuelling configuration) of the aircraft when launched from a take-off distance of 195 m, 190 m, 125m from a deck with 13º Skijump and 144 m, 203 m, 213 m from a deck with 14º Ski-jump at ISA + 15° with WOD of 20 and 30 kn and QFE of 1005 hpa in tropical conditions [with and without hold back (Restraining Gear System)]?"
The deliveries of the aircraft would need to commence within three years post conclusion of contract, and be completed within further period of three years. The solicitation of offers will be as per “Single Stage-Two Bid System". It would imply that a “Request for Proposal” would be issued soliciting the technical and commercial offers together, but in two separate sealed envelopes. The validity of commercial offers would be at least 18 months from the date of submitting of offers. Amongst the vendors cleared by GS evaluation, a Contract Negotiations Committee would decide the lowest cost bidder (L1) and conclude the appropriate contract. The vendor has to undertake offset contracts amounting to 30 % of the value of commercial proposals Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP-2016) of 28 March 2016.
DPP-2016 introduced specific provisions that will act as a growth stimulus to the domestic defence industry. In order to promote indigenous design and development of defence equipment, DPP 2016 introduced the "Buy-IDDM" category of acquisition and accorded it the top most priority. For the first time ever, provision to procure equipment with enhanced performance parameters, has been accounted for – this will enable the armed forces procure the most advanced weapon systems available in the market.
DPP-2016 directed that it was of utmost importance that the concept of "Make in India" remains the focal point of the defence acquisition policy/procedure. There is a need to institute enabling provisions for utilisation and consolidation of design and manufacturing infrastructure available in the country. A need has also been felt for identifying strategic partners for promoting defence production in the private sector.
The RFI requested what level of Transfer of Technology (ToT) and deep repair expertise was the company willing to share with India? The vendor should specify Critical Technologies required and comment on its ability to absorb the aircraft manufacturing technology at the levels of sub vendor/ supply chain elements in India through ToT from OEM and its partners. The details and guidelines on ToT aspects are as given in DPP 2016, the same may also be commented upon comprehensively in terms of their range and depth for the aircraft, simulators, weapons and supporting equipment and products being offered.
Level of indigenisation in content and design, in percentage, was to be clearly indicated for all components of the core and associated equipment that is being quoted by the Vendors. The acquisition category will be based on this information, as detailed in Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 [DPP-2016].
Indian Navy was expected to issue the tender soon following the go-ahead signal from the government. "Hopefully, we will select and shall have deck-based carrier airborne fighter in next 4-5 years," Admiral Lanba added. The selected aircraft will operate from indigenously developed IAC-1 aircraft carrier which will be conventional ski jump based STOBAR layout and INS Vikramaditya. "The IAC-1 which is under-construction at the moment is going as per the timeline and she will start her trial in 2019, we will take delivery in 2020," Admiral Lanba said.
The Indian Navy opened vendor discussions in January 2018 with Boeing Defense and Dassault Aviation under the Multirole Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) program. This project will acquire 57 fighters to operate off its future aircraft carriers. While the navy did receive four responses in response to its call for information in 2017, only two were being regarded as ‘serious contenders’. The contest is a face-off between Boeing’s F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet and a modified version of Dassault’s Rafale M F3R standard. The Indian Navy didn’t regard with the same measure of seriousness the two other responses it received — from Russia for the MiG-29K and from Sweden’s Saab for the concept Gripen Maritime.
According to Boeing’s Vice President Thom Breckenridge, the company is planning ski-jump testing for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. This was stated by Breckenridge at the DefExpo 2020, held in February 2020 at Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and was directly related to a possible future Bharatiya Nau Sena (Indian Navy) contract for the Super Hornet.
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