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By Bulbul Singh

25 May 06. The Indian government has fast tracked talks with United Kingdom for procurement of additional used Sea Harrier aircraft for the Indian Navy. Presently the Indian Navy operates a fleet of 23 Harrier aircraft procured from United Kingdom and these are in the process of mid-life upgrade undertaken by Bangalore based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The Indian navy is purchasing unspecified numbers of Sea Harriers to be mounted on the homegrown aircraft carrier, the Air Defence Ship (ADS) which is likely to be commissioned in the Indian Navy in another four years.

The Indian Navy made the first expression of interest to buy used Sea Harriers from Britain in 2002, when it decided to de-commission the existing Sea Harriers which are deployed on the aircraft carrier INS Viraat. Officials in the Indian Navy say, the negotiations have been revived and the purchase of the used Sea Harriers is in addition to the upgrade of 15 Sea Harriers being carried out by HAL for around $120m and also in addition to the 16 MiG 29K aircraft contracted in 2004 for around $650m to be deployed on the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshokov. No price details of the used Sea Harriers are known but an Indian Navy official said, Britain is retiring the Sea Harriers from its Navy this year.

A technical team from the Indian Navy has already inspected the used Sea Harriers and have cleared the purchase of these aircraft said sources in the Indian Navy. The inspection team had visited Britain in January 2006.
Sources in the Indian defence ministry say, the decision to buy additional Sea Harriers and also the MiG 29 K aircraft has been taken as there is no certainty when the naval version of the homegrown Light Combat Aircraft would be ready for induction in the Indian Navy, which is already behind scheduled by more then 10 years. The majority of the Indian Navy’s Sea Harrier fleet had to be grounded in 1999-2000 following the U.S. sanctions against India after the May 1998 nuclear tests conducted by New Delhi. Indigenous efforts to develop some of the spares for the Sea Harriers could not fructify and the Sea Harriers could get the spares only after the economic sanctions were lifted in September 2001. The upgrade of the Sea Harriers include upgrades of multi functional display systems and digital video recording units in avionics suites of the existing Sea Harriers. Besides, a new generation multi mode radar will be procured from Elta of Israel to track targets and guide the Derby BVR missile which will be mounted on upgraded Sea Harriers.

India has also procured around 20 Derby BVR missiles from Rafael of Israel which will be mounted on the upgraded Sea Harrier aircraft. The limited global tender for procurement of BVR missiles for Sea Harriers was floated in September 2003. The Sea Harriers were inducted in the Indian Navy in December 1983 at a cost of $ 20 million per piece.

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