"We are very interested in responding to the RFI that we have received from the Indian Navy. We plan to be a contender in the competition to be the Indian Navy's next-generation fighter aircraft," Dr Matthias Schmidlin told me during a brief interaction at the Eurofighter's final assembly facility forty minutes outside Munich. The Vice President of the rather lofty sounding India Campaign Directorate for EADS Military Air Systems has a nervous air about him -- he constantly glances at pre-prepared notes for a television interview, even though my for-the-record questions are mostly of a general nature. But when I rounded off the brief interview with a question about the Indian Navy's interest in the Typhoon, he smiles for the first time.
For one thing, a Sea Typhoon isn't a new idea from any stretch. In the past, there has been talk of the Royal Navy pulling out of the JSF programme in favour of a navalised Eurofighter. The navies of Italy and Spain have also sporadically put forward the idea of putting together a Sea Typhoon and hawking it in the global market. However, so far, no single point of interest has been incentive enough for EADS to proceed with anything even closely resembling a Sea Typhoon prototype. What they do
have, however, is a fully finished concept study just waiting to fly off the drawing board. At least, that's what they say.
"A navalised Typhoon may soon be a reality. In fact, we have completed the groundwork for navalising the Typhoon since long and may pursue the respective entry into service based on ongoing campaigns," says Schmidlin. Eurofighter was mildly surprised to receive a request for information, alongside Boeing for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed-Martin for the F-35
and Saab for the conceptual Sea Gripen
Notwithstanding EADS' claim to have completed "all the groundwork" on the Sea Typhoon concept, navalising the Typhoon, like navalising any fighter jet not initially planned for deck-based operations, will be a onerous task to say the least. Even the fundamental airframe architecture of the Eurofighter seems to suggest that the platform would face serious issues over a range of areas, for instance the placement and configuration of its intakes, which may preclude the possibility of reinforced landing gear. That, in the event, would be only one of the questions that EADS claims it has solved with the Sea Typhoon concept, though it doesn't say how.
Doctrinally, it so happens, the concept of operating a heavy fighter (of the Su-33-class for instance) off aircraft carriers is something the Indian Navy has been toying with for long, though such ideas have been severely pushed about by the fact the very concept of an aircraft carrier force stands doctrinally questioned, albeit not in practice -- India still stands to receive the troubled Vikramaditya
and at least two indigenously built aircraft carriers from the Cochin shipyard.Photo by Shiv Aroor / Newly built Eurofighter just after radar testing at the System Testing Center, Manching