Finally, govt wakes up tos hortage of fighter jets

New Delhi : Months after Prime Minister Modi slashed the demand of the French Rafale fighter jets from 126 to 36, the government has woken up to the shortage cry of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to go for a fresh global tender inviting the foreign companies to make the fighter jets in India.

The defence ministry is all set to float the tender after the IAF raised the alarm bells that it is down to 31 squadrons as against the need of 42 as mandated by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Each squadron has 16 to 18 aircraft. The new order, even if it fructifies in another one year after all trials, will mean the IAF will have to wait for another eight to ten years for the supplies.

The request for information (RFI), the first step in the tendering process, is being finalised, sources in the ministry said. The tender will insist that the global players have to set up the manufacturing facilities in India in tune with the government’s “make in India” initiative.

The tender will go out to all companies that had participated in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) project. The UPA government had cleared purchase of 126 jets from French major Dassault but the purchase was scrapped by the Modi government and instead ordering only 36 Rafale fighters from this company in April 2015.

Learning from the previous experience in which most of the global players dropped out, the defence ministry has decided to keep its options open by not specifying the number of engines each fighter jet must have. “Our attempt to get the fighter jets as fast as possible and so it’s immaterial whether they are single engine or twin engine planes,” the sources said.

To speed up matters, the ministry will be looking at new additions made by the global players since the MMRCA trials were carried out in 2011. The aircraft then tested were Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN, Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault’s Rafale, Swedish Saab’s Gripen and Russian MiG-35.

Since after cancellation of 126 Rafale jets, the defence ministry and the IAF were quietly exploring two global manufacturers for the single engine fighter jets, but the government has now decided to drop the idea and look for whatever variant of fighter jets are available.

The public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is all set to start production of 123 Tejas fighter jets, but it will take not less than a decade for the entire lot to be produced. The IAF is keeping its fingers crossed as its tally of total aircraft will come down further as the MiG 21 fighters are on their last legs and have to be phased out.

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