The acquisition of Gorshkov formed part of the joint Indo”“Russian Protocol on Military Technical Cooperation signed in December 1994. Reportedly, the financial aspects were unusual
In 1988, a design consultancy agreement was signed with DCN of France to teach the intricacies of aircraft carrier design to the team of Indian naval architects. DCN was also required to carry out a technical audit of Cochin Shipyard and identify the facilities that would require to be augmented for constructing the ADS. In 2000, approval was accorded for the ADS to be built in Cochin Shipyard.
Sea Harrier Fighter Aircraft
Acquisition and Role of Sea Harriers
V/STOL aircraft had been under development in Britain since the end 1960s for the Royal Air Force. The Royal Navy intended to acquire the naval version, the Sea Harrier. (In July 1972, a Harrier had come to India and landed and taken off from Vikrant to establish, prima facie, that
V/STOL aircraft could operate from Vikrant’s flight deck).
In the years after 1972, the Indian Navy kept track of the development of the British Sea Harriers. In 1977, the Navy obtained approval, in principle, for the acquisition of the Sea Harriers as replacements for the Seahawks. In 1979, the Indian Navy placed an order for six Sea Harriers and two Sea Harrier Trainers for delivery in 1983.
The first three Sea Harriers (603,604 and 605) took off from Britain on 13 December 1983 and after overnight halts in Malta, Egypt and Dubai landed at Goa on 16 December. After a brief maintenance period, the first Sea Harrier landed on Vikrant’s deck on 20 Dec 1983.
Three more Sea Harriers (601, 602 and 606) and the first trainer (651) arrived in 1984. With arrival of the second trainer (652) in 1985, the delivery of the first batch of eight Sea Harriers was complete.
The second batch of aircraft consisted of 17 flights (607–623 and two trainers 653 & 654) were delivered between 1989 and 1992.The capability enhancement in the second batch of Sea Harriers included equipping with:-
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- The British Sea Eagle anti-ship missile
- The French Matra Magic II, all-aspect, air-to-air missile.
- A wider coverage Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).
- Photo-reconnaissance pod.
Sea Harrier Simulator
The Sea Harrier Simulator was commissioned in the Naval Air Station at Hansa in 1984. It was a six-axis full-motion simulator and provided ab-initio and re-familiarisation training, practicing of emergency procedures, tactical and mission training, simulated instrument flying accident investigation and validation of mission profiles.
Despite the high cost, “˜Basic Conversion training continued to be carried out in Britain because there werent enough aircraft.
In 1998, this simulator was upgraded and re-commissioned by Macmet India, a Bangalore based firm, to cater for the Batch Two Sea Harriers. The upgradation provided:-
- Integration of Blue Fox radar with Sea Eagle and Magic Matra missile delivery capability.
- Day and night visuals.
- Improvements of Electronic Warfare, Record/Replay and incorporation of an instructor’s operating-console.
Training of Sea Harrier Pilots
Until 1984, the ‘Basic Conversion’ and subsequent ‘Operational’ training of Sea Harrier pilots was carried out in Britain. ‘Operational’ training commenced in India after the first trainer aircraft arrived in 1984. However, despite the high cost, ‘Basic Conversion’ training continued to be carried out in Britain because there weren’t enough aircraft.
In 1990, the Sea Harrier Operational Flying Training Unit (SHOFTU) was formed within the Sea Harrier squadron (INAS 300), and was allotted three fighters and two trainers, to carry out both ‘basic’ and ‘operational’ training.
Due to the Royal Navys financial constraints, its FRS 2 Sea Harriers started entering service only in the end 1980s. At that time, the replacement for the Blue Fox radar, named Blue Vixen, was still under development.
In 1991, this unit was moved under INAS 551 (the lead-in fighter training squadron) and was christened as INAS 551 B Flight.
After 1996, this flight was informally constituted as a ‘Sea Harrier Training Squadron’ with an independent Squadron Commander. In addition to training budding Sea Harrier pilots, the squadron imparted technical on-job-training to tradesmen of frontline and second line servicing units. When required, it augmented 300 Squadron with aircraft and aircrew, afloat and ashore. The Squadron was finally commissioned as INAS 552 on 07 Jul 2005.
Upgradation of Sea Harrier Combat Capability
Efforts continued to acquire affordable pulse Doppler radars, longer range ‘Beyond-Visual-Range’ air-to-air missiles and ‘smart’ data-links. Discussions on the Limited Upgrade of Sea Harrier (LUSH) commenced in the mid nineties and by 2003, negotiations with HAL (Bangalore) had commenced. Shortly after that, the firm was declared the prime contractor, with IAF and ELTA of Israel being the sub-contractors. The LUSH envisaged a new multi-mode radar, data link and combat manoeuvre monitor and flight recorder along with a Beyond Visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile.
Progressive Upgradation of Sea Harrier Capability
FRS 1. For the air defence role, the first batch of 6 Sea Harriers (equivalent to the Royal Navy’s FRS 1) had the Blue Fox radar, the French Magic Matra close range air-to-air missile and a Radar Warning Receiver that gave limited coverage of a hostile radar-fitted aircraft approaching from the stern sector. For the anti-ship/ground attack role, these Harriers could carry 30 mm guns mounted in pods, 68 mm rockets in pods, runway denial bombs, cluster bombs and 1000 pound ‘iron’ bombs of 2nd World War vintage. The accuracy of weapon delivery was enhanced by the onboard weapon-aiming computer and Head-up-display.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 interrupted the supply of critical spares. This to an extent, impelled the Naval Aircraft Yard to expedite completion of its facilities for repair of components.
FRS 2. Due to the Royal Navy’s financial constraints, its FRS 2 Sea Harriers started entering service only in the end 1980s. At that time, the replacement for the Blue Fox radar, named Blue Vixen, was still under development. The Navy had to decide whether to delay the induction of the batch two Sea Harriers until the better radar was available or to accept the same standard as was fitted in the Royal Navy’s FRS 2s, namely the Blue Fox radar but now with two types of air-to-air missiles:-
- The Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile that had a range of several kilometres.
- The ‘All Aspect Air to Air Missile’ for close range combat that enabled attack from all aspects, rather than only from behind the target.
The Indian Navy exercised the second option of the ‘All Aspect AAM.’
By 1992, the last of the Sea Harriers ordered in the 1980s had arrived. Thereafter, all the earlier Batch 1 Sea Harriers were upgraded, in India, to Batch 2 standard. Further improvements were incorporated. These included better indigenous radar warning receivers, self-protection jammers, Global Positioning System (GPS), etc.
Alize Anti-Submarine Aircraft
The Alizes entered service in 1961 along with the Vikrant. In 1974, the Navy decided to refurbish the Alizes and extend their life into the 1980s.
The performance of refurbished Alize radars and ESM improved, but the accuracy of the sonobuoy monitoring remained sub optimal. As a result, the Alize’s ASW role died out. The last launch of Alizes from Vikrant took place on 2 April 1987. Thereafter they operated only from ashore.
Until replacements could be identified and acquired, it was planned to extend the life of both these types of aircraft (IL 38s & TU 142s) as long as possible.
The Alizes stopped flying on 12 April 1991 and the Squadron was decommissioned in August 1991. Five Alizes were left of the total of 14 acquired. During the 30 years of the squadron’s service, the Alizes had flown 35,912 hours and done 7,144 deck landings. Meanwhile, the ship-borne anti-submarine role had been taken over by the Seaking anti-submarine helicopters.
Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft
The operational availability of Russian MR Aircraft during the 1990s was afflicted by problems. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 interrupted the supply of critical spares. This to an extent, impelled the Naval Aircraft Yard to expedite completion of its facilities for repair of components. But then there were other issues like the delays in the receipt of aircraft engines after overhaul in Russia.
This was partly overcome by the induction of engines ex Russian AN-12s from the Air Force. A third problem was the compulsion of sending aircraft to Russia for overhaul, which the Navy was finding difficult to circumvent. Therefore, until replacements could be identified and acquired, it was planned to extend the life of both these types of aircraft (IL 38s & TU 142s) as long as possible.
The non-availability of spares for the turn round of TUs adversely affected their serviceability. Critical and urgently needed fast moving spares were not being received, whilst many long term ones were procured.
Two developments after 1971 had marked the rebirth of the shore-based arm of naval aviation.4
- As a lesson of the 1971 War, approval was accorded to acquire three Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-submarine Warfare (MRASW) Ilyushin (IL) 38s from the Soviet Union in 1975.
- The transfer of the “maritime reconnaissance” role from the Air Force to the Navy and the taking over of the Super Constellation aircraft (Super Connies) in 1976 that the Air Force had been using for maritime reconnaissance.
IL 38s for MRASW (INAS 315)
The first three IL 38s arrived in 1977. It soon became apparent that three MRASW aircraft were inadequate for the extensive sea areas to be kept under maritime surveillance. The Navy’s requests to the Soviet Union for five more IL 38s could not be fulfilled because production of the IL 38s had ceased.
Since the three ILs in service fell due for major overhaul in the USSR at the same time, the Soviet side was again urged to release five ILs from their Navy. Eventually, a contract was signed in May 1981 for two more IL 38s and these aircraft joined the squadron in 1983. Overall, a total of five IL 38s were inducted into the Navy.
By 2000, discussions with the Russians on the refurbishment and modernisation of the first three
IL 38s to extend their life between overhauls to 15 years had concluded. The programme envisaged an extension of the total technical life by an additional 10 years, as well as a new avionics and a weapons suite.
TU 142s for LRMP (INAS 312)
To meet the Navy’s request for more MR aircraft, the Soviet Union offered the Long Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) Tupolev (TU) 142s in 1984. Eight of these aircraft arrived in 1988.