The objective of the Naval Aviation Force Structure is to build the capabilities required to execute missions envisioned within the overall maritime policy framework. To do this, the Indian Naval Aviation invests in cutting-edge technologies and operational ideas to achieve operational superiority. The Indian Navy has been forward-thinking and nimble in implementing its future plans for air-based assets. Indian naval aviation plans have integrated the D&D (Design and Development) of deck-based fighters, maritime reconnaissance platforms, helicopters, and futuristic platforms such as responsive space elements and swarm drones to fulfil combat and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) roles.
The transport tasks of the Indian Navy have been equally accounted for in terms of available resources, plans, and inter-service collaboration. The Indian Navy has aggressively collaborated with the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization), Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), and the private sector to respond quickly to the impact of the import embargo.
The following are examples of initiatives that the Indian Navy is pursuing via the indigenous route:
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), along with an appropriate private partner, would pursue D&D of envisaged variants of the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and DBMRH for the Indian Navy. This proposal for the D&D of 66 Deck Based Multi Role Helicopters (DBMRH) is currently being advanced under Buy (Indian-IDDM) with Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The D&D process is anticipated to last seven to eight years after project approval, with production beginning in the ninth year. To advance the proposal, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) is developing procedures for incorporating applicable elements into the Defense Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
Utility Helicopters are on the third Positive Indigenisation List (PIL). As per the successive government’s self-sufficiency vision and to meet the urgent operational needs for utility helicopters to support fleet operations at sea, the Indian Navy has initiated the design and development of 60 Utility Helicopter-Maritimes with HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) as a replacement for ageing Chetak helicopters for Utility roles. This case is being processed per Chapter IV of DAP 2020’s Buy (Indian-IDDM) category. Approval of Necessity (AoN) is anticipated to be granted by early 2023, with helicopter deliveries beginning in 2027.
The Indian Navy has engaged the DRDO lab CABS (Centre for Airborne Systems) for the configuration of the C 295 aircraft as a Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft in collaboration with Tata Aerospace Systems Limited (TASL) and Airbus, wherein all mission systems would be indigenously designed and developed by various DRDO labs and Indian industries. The same model is being considered for Long Range Maritime Surveillance (LRMR) Aircraft, in which a Green aircraft would be purchased from Boeing or Airbus and merged with indigenous weapons and sensors devised and developed by the DRDO.
Future requirements for fighter aircraft for aircraft carriers would be met through indigenous development. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is designing a Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter aircraft (TEDBF). The prototype’s first flight is scheduled for 2026, production will begin in 2031, and around 45 TEDBFs will be in service by 2040.
Rafale M and F/A 18 performed the Operational Demonstration (Op Demo) at the SBTF (Shore-Based Test Facility), Goa, in January 2022 and June 22, respectively, to verify that the aircraft satisfies Indian Navy specifications and is compatible with aircraft carriers. After finalising the aircraft selection, a DAP-compliant intergovernmental procurement procedure would be implemented. However, this is only a temporary measure until TEDBEF starts arriving.
On February 6, 2023, naval pilots landed the LCA Navy, which was made in India, on the INS Vikrant. This showed that India could design, develop, build, test, and integrate its own fighter planes with its own aircraft carrier (IAC). But the LCA (Navy) doesn’t meet the needs of the Indian Navy. Instead, it would be used to develop the TEDBF as the main fighter.
Assembling General Atomics MQ-9B drones
The case for the acquisition of MQ-9B HALE RPAS, a specialised, cutting-edge capability, is being advanced with the United States government via FMS Route. An immediate acquisition proposal has been leveraged through assertive negotiations for the local assembly of about 60% of the number of RPAs proposed for acquisition in India, the establishment of a Performance Based Depot Level MRO (Maintenance Repair and Overhaul) facility within the country, Sea Guardian Global Sustainment Support (SGSS), and collaboration with DRDO for the transfer of some niche technology required for indigenous High Altitude Long Endurance (HAL) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). These agreements would transform India into a Drone Hub.
Even though the Indian Navy has operated RPAs for the past two decades, Sea Guardian activities have substantially improved its surveillance capabilities. Sea Guardian RPA has allowed the Indian Navy to maintain continuous surveillance over vast areas of the Indian Ocean Region, from Sunda Strait to the Gulf of Aden (IOR). The Indian Navy’s experience with leased Sea Guardian missions has been highly positive; hence, the Indian Navy is actively pursuing the acquisition of this aircraft.
AEW radar on helicopters
The Indian Navy seeks six Kamov KA 31 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) helicopters from JSC Rosoboronexport through a Repeat Order. The case for this purchase is currently being advanced. The purchase of six KA 31 helicopters had to be put on hold for India to become more independent in creating defence platforms and equipment. The limits on Buy (Global) instances were also a factor in this decision. An indigenous plan has been devised by the Indian Navy, in collaboration with DRDO/LRDE and HAL, for installing AEW radar on helicopters used by the Indian Navy. This would clear the way for the AEW form of DBMRH to be developed.