What we know about IAF’s upgrade plans with Made-in-India Aircraft

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The Ministry of Defence intends to procure fighter aircraft for the IAF that are “made in India”. A request for information (RFI) was issued by the Indian Air Force on April 7, 2018.

The proposal is to procure approximately 110 fighter aircraft. The procurement should have a maximum of 15 per cent aircraft in flyaway state and the remaining 85 per cent will have to be made in India by a strategic partner/Indian production agency.

The aircraft are intended as day-and-night capable, all-weather multi-role combat aircraft. The new RFI has been issued to the six contenders of the scrapped MMRCA project. These are F/A-18 “Super Hornet”, F-16 (Block To), Gripen-E, Mig-35, Eurofighter and Rafale. The project cost will be over $20.6-bn. RFI response must be sent by early July 2018.

Thereafter, request for proposal (RFP) is expected to be issued within six-eight months. The initial delivery of the aircraft in flyaway condition from the original equipment manufacturer would commence within 36 months and the entire delivery will have to be completed within 60 months from contract signing.

The development follows an abandoned plan to buy 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). The the original equipment manufacturers will have to specify the scope of depth and range of technology transfer.

Here’s my assessment following informed discussions ::

• The number of 110 (fighter aircraft) was reached at basically to keep it less than 126 aircraft. This is to avoid going to the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for approval again. The DAC has already approved procurement of 126 aircraft.

• The IAF will retire 11 squadrons of Mig-21 and Mig-27 aircraft by 2022. This corresponds to approximately 200 aircraft. From 2027 to 2032, nine squadrons of Mig 29 and Jaguars will be retired. This would correspond to approximately 162 aircraft (one squadron has 18 aircraft). In effect, the IAF would need 362 (162 plus 200) aircraft, by 2032. These numbers would be required to retain the present strength of 32 squadrons. The IAF has pitched for 42 squadrons to face a “collusive threat” from Pakistan and China. This is not likely to be accepted by the government due to cost implications.

• It is probable that the government will clear another urgent procurement of 36 Rafale. This would be due to cost factor reduction to only 60 per cent of the first batch of Rafale aircraft. Maintenance facilities have been initially procured for two bases. The same would be sufficient to support another two squadrons (36 aircraft).

• The overall picture is as follows. The IAF will need a total of 362 fighter aircraft by 2032, to maintain the present strength of 32 fighter squadrons. These numbers would consist of 76 Rafale plus 110 (fresh RFI) in addition to 176 indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA). The figures are broad-based but indicative of likely accruals.

• The previous MMRCA evaluation (from 2007 to 2012) for five years will be the base for fresh evaluation.

• The RFI will be utilised to establish the minimum QR.

• No evaluation for Rafale and Eurofighter, which had passed selection during the last MMRCA selections.

• “Delta Evaluation” norms will be followed. This implies that items in which they had failed earlier will be reassessed.

• Grippen E was not evaluated and only the C and D versions were assessed. F-16 block to will be evaluated. F/A 18 is the same as offered earlier.

Mig-35 does not seem to be in the competitions

• The procurement will follow the G2G process.

• The IAF will give the choice of aircraft and the government will select the “strategic partner”.

• Price will be an overriding factor.

• There is no constraint of single or twin engine. The QR will be the prime consideration. The selection could be of a single engine or twin engine or both.

• Finally, considering the overall factors, including pricing and QR criteria, in my view, the Grippen E and F/A – 18 Super Hornet could be the front-runners. The Indian Navy is also inclined to favour the F/A – 18 for deck operations. Their requirement is for 50 aircraft.

• The flying evaluations will only be on paper as they have already been completed during the MMRCA selection. This would reduce the selection process time considerably.

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