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The Indian Navy’s plan to develop a 26-ton carrier-borne fighter jet, the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), seems to be hitting turbulence from the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF has reportedly shown little interest in the Navy’s proposal for an Air Force variant named Omni-Role Combat Aircraft (ORCA).

According to a senior IAF official (who requested anonymity), developing the ORCA would be a redundant exercise. The IAF is already heavily invested in the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a domestically developed 5th-generation fighter jet in the same weight class (around 25 tons) as the ORCA.

The IAF has a clear roadmap for its fighter jet fleet. This includes the procurement of 17.5-ton Tejas MkII fighters (200 units), followed by the AMCA (around 200 units post-2033). Additionally, the IAF is looking to acquire 97 Tejas Mk1A fighters, bringing their total Tejas fleet to 220. 

When questioned about the possibility of ORCA replacing the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) program (likely to result in Rafale selection), IAF officials highlighted their existing investment in infrastructure and crew training for the 36 Rafales already in service. They see ORCA as offering no significant technological leap over the Tejas MkII or AMCA, making it unnecessary. reporter was also made aware by the Senior IAF official that 530 plus 4.5 gen ( MkII 200, MRFA 114, MK1A 220) fighter jets will be inducted over the next 10 years, IAF doesn’t want more 4.5 gen fighter jets and wants to focus on 5th gen post-2035. 

Despite the IAF’s disinterest in ORCA, the TEDBF program for the Navy is still ongoing. The 26-ton TEDBF is designed for operation from India’s aircraft carriers and is expected to replace the ageing MiG-29K fleet.

The IAF’s focus on the AMCA and Tejas MkII programs indicates a strategic shift towards self-reliance in 5th-generation fighter jet technology. The Navy’s TEDBF program, however, remains crucial for maintaining its carrier-based airpower. Whether a future collaboration between the IAF and Navy on carrier-borne fighter jets emerges remains to be seen.

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