While the competition between six international aircraft manufacturers moves on, some of the competitors are already looking a step further, positioning their respective platforms addressing possible interest from the Indian Navy. The Super Hornet F/A-18E/F from Boeing and French Rafale from Dassault are already operational on board U.S. and French carriers, while the MiG-35 could be matched with the MiG-29K model the Indian Navy already operates. That leaves the Lockheed Martin F-16IN, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon in a disadvantage.
Well… Things may change quite soon, according to BAE Systems. The company has anticipated this, highlighting at its display a navalized version of the Typhoon, utilizing few of the Tranche 3 features, such as thrust vector nozzles, conformal fuel tanks, and spoilers at the leading edge wing roots, designed to minimize landing speed. Unlike the Super Hornet and Rafale using catapult launch which requires significant strengthening of the landing gear and airframe, Typhoon is considered for ‘ski-jump’ equipped carriers only (like QE2 and India’s future indigenous carriers).
According to Paul Hopkins, Vice President Business Development (Air) at BAE Systems, simulation tests of a ‘navalized Typhoon’ show the aircraft can takeoff and land with full mission payload, including two ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise missiles, four BVR missiles, two short range missiles, a centerline fuel tank and two conformal fuel tanks – something no other navalized aircraft can perform. A navalized Typhoon will be new built aircraft, fitted with strengthened airframe and landing gear. The British decision to switch from STOVL F-35B to F-35C conventional take off Lightning could pave the road for reconsideration of use Navalized Typhoons by the Royal Navy, on QE-2 aircraft carriers.
The Gripen can also potentially be modified for service on aircraft carriers equipped with Ski Jumps. According to Eddy de la Motte, Director of Gripen operations in India, Saab performed a feasibility study of operating Gripen on aircraft carriers about ten years ago. The study determined this possibility is possible, feasible and affordable. :We don’t have carrier experience and will rely on our partners like Embraer and HAL having more experience in this field to meet such requirement when it comes’ LaMotte said.
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