$ 20 billion Indian fighter jet deal to make progress

IDD Update

Ending months of silence on buying new fighter jets, India has announced it will push the case of getting 114 jets from a foreign maker under a deal expected to be in around $ 20 billion.

The project would be under the ‘make in India’ programme, meaning the foreign   company will have to set up a manufacturing base in India.

Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari pitched for 114 Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) at press conference in New Delhi on October 5 .

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“To  mitigate the gap of fighter squadrons and combat capability, the RFI (Request for Information) for 114 MRFA was mooted, for which responses have been received. Now we are waiting to move the case up further.”

Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari

India looks at 200 jets over  a decade

The deal for 114 jets is part of the planned induction of the IAF over the next decade or so.  In March 2020, just days before the first wave of Covid-19 pandamic hit India, its Ministry of  Defence announced a decision to procure an additional 83 single-engined indigenous Tejas Mark 1A fighter jets for Rs 38,800 crore ($ 5.31 Biillion). Deliveries for the 83 Mark 1A Tejas jets made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited would start in 2024.

Lockheed Martin F 21 one of those in the race

Since order of the Tejas 18 months ago, the programme inviting  global biggies to make another 114 fighter jets was on the back burner as India battled two waves of the pandemic. As the deliveries of 36 Rafale fighter jets will be completed by next year, the IAF now is looking to take up the case for the MRFA or the 114 fighter jets.

New Tech is what India wants

India is looking at newer technologies. The RFI for the 114 jets mandates Transfer of Technology (ToT) to Indian partner. The foreign company winning the tender could be the automatic choice for the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) and will get due weightage. The AMCA is being designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). 

The IAF  Chief made it clear on what the force looking at the deal for 114 jets.

“In this project we are looking at the future to integrate 5th generation and 6th  generation technologies”

Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari

A decision on 114 jets will hinge upon how India plans to pace the manufacturing of the next locally made fighter jets – the Tejas Mark 2, also called the medium weight fighter and the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA). Both require foreign engines and the AMCA needs some outside design support too.

With these numbers lined up, the Ministry of Defence could actually spin around the tender for 114 jets and ask the bidders to make upgraded bids which could meet wider requirements like MWF and AMCA.

Realistically the first AMCA should be inducted by 2028. The Chinese have already tested their ‘J-20’ and claim it to be 5th Gen. The F-22 Raptor from the US is established and truly tested 5th gen fighter while the Sukhoi-57 is yet to commence production. The foreign manufacturer who will win the bid for making the 114 fighter jets under the SP Model will be the obvious partner for the AMCA.

A scale model of the AMCA

The process from now on

The RFI is first step in the Indian tendering process and in these three and half years the next step called the request for proposal (RFP) — has not been initiated. This will be kick-started when the Ministry does an ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AON) following which an RFP is issued asking the vendors to respond with technical and commercial bids.

Seven global plane makers have sent in their proposals for the RFI but the project – expected to be some $ 20 billion with weapons and associated  packages —  has been on the backburner till now.

In the race for this tender are the Lockheed Martin’s F-21, Boeing’s F/A-18IN, Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault’s Rafale, Swedish Saab’s Gripen and Russian MiG-35 and the Sukhoi 35.

The selected foreign OEM will tie-up with a selected Indian strategic partner (SP).

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