India’s Sea Harrier Shortage
End of British Harrier fleet a solution for India? (Oct 31/10)
Covering a potential aircraft carrier gap isn’t India’s only naval air issue these days. In response to a March 2008 question in Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament), India’s Defence Minister Shri A K Antony said:
“The Indian Navy is facing shortage of Sea Harrier aircraft. The ongoing upgrade of Sea Harrier programme has also temporarily affected the availability of the aircraft. Contract for the limited upgrade of Sea Harrier aircraft was concluded with M/s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in March 2005 at a cost of Rs. 476.69 crore [DID: about $109.8 million at the time]. The upgrade programme is expected to be completed by 2009.”
Can India’s Sea Harriers survive as an effective force, until MiG-29Ks aboard the rebuilt INS Vikramaditya can replace them?
India’s Sea Harrier Mk51s are old aircraft, predating the AV-8B+ Harrier IIs currently flown by the US Marines and Italian Navy, and their British GR7/GR9 or Spanish EA-8B counterparts. The V/STOL(Vertical or Short Take-Off and Landing) Sea Harrier fighters were inducted in 1983, with 25 used for operational flying and the remaining 5 as trainers. The current fleet reportedly stands at 13 as of December 2007, due to 17 crashes over the aircrafts’ service lifetime (a known hazard for Harriers). With only 13 aircraft on hand, cycling aircraft in for lengthy upgrades without disrupting already-low fleet numbers becomes a challenge.
The current upgrade program will involve new IAI Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode fire control radars, RAFAEL’s Derby short-medium range air-air missiles, plus combat maneuvering flight recorders and digital cockpit voice recorders.
“India and the US are the two most promising markets for more than 50 of the most up-to-date Harriers, which will otherwise be consigned to the scrap-yard or museum. Peter Luff, defence procurement minister, told the Financial Times that some of the kit axed in the defence review… might still find a home abroad.”
The US Marines end up buying them, and will use them mostly for spare parts.
Oct 18/10: Britain’s new government releases its 2010 Strategic Defense and Strategy Review [PDF]. The result is the end of the Harrier fleet, and of British fixed-wing naval aviation, after 2011. Britain’s Harrier II jets recently received an upgrade to GR9 status. Read “Britain Moves Forward on Harrier Support Agreements” for full coverage.
Aug 3/10: A CAG(Indian comptroller and auditor general) report says that Indian naval aviation has suffered in recent years, and makes it clear that on-time induction of MiG-29Ks into the fleet will be critical. As of Dec 30/09, fully 65% of India’s 30 Sea Harriers, bought from 1979-1986, have either crashed or been “rendered ineffective” and unusuable in some other manner.
Of those that remain, availability is only 42%, and the audit period included 8 significant accidents and 18 minor ones. That isn’t entirely surprising, as the Harrier is known as a difficult aircraft to fly, especially during vertical landings. Of even more concern are reports of problems with the Blue Vixen fire control radars, a squadron that had not fired missiles in practice since 2003, obsolete bombs, and minimum utilisation of the 30 mm guns on board the aircraft. Those are signs that India’s naval aviation may require additional training, in order to make up its previous shortfalls. DNA India | Express Buzz.
Aug 26/09: Sify News reports India’s grounding of its Sea Harrier fleet. Indian navy spokesman P.V.S. Satish:
“The fleet has been grounded for immediate physical checks on all the flying controls… We’re likely to finish that in 48 to 72 hours and thereafter the fleet will be cleared.”
Aug 12/09: Crash. Make it 12 Sea Harriers.