Faced with shortage of combat planes, the Indian Air Force is burning midnight oil to initiate the process for buying over 100 fighter aircraft, expected to be worth over Rs 1.25 lakh crore in the next few days, around the beginning of the military exhibition, Defexpo-2018, in Chennai.
The Air Force is moving ahead with a plan under which it will invite bids from global aircraft manufacturers, including firms from the United States, Sweden, France and Europe.
The Air Force is working hard to issue the Request for Information (RFI) for the combat aircraft, and it is expected to come out before the Defexpo exhibition which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 11, government sources told Mail Today.
The plan is to acquire more than 100 planes for arresting the fall in squadron strength of the force alongside promoting Make in India and developing a mature and capable indigenous defence industry here.
The Air Force has already told the government that it is in a hurry to induct new planes and wants the government to go for an inter-governmental deal with a foreign country to make the planes here at the earliest.
As per the plans, the specifications for the programme would be such that it will allow a level playing field for both single engine and twin engine fighters during the selection process for the mega tender.
Sources said the tender process would not be as stringent as the previous competition held on 2007 for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) procurement programme, where Frances Rafale jet was finally chosen, but the project had to be cancelled later on.
The Air Force had earlier initiated a programme under which it wanted to go for acquiring single engine fighter planes to replace the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter jets, which are due to retire in next four to five years.
Under the programme, only US Lockheed and Saab Gripen of Sweden were allowed to participate. However, due to the change in circumstances and requirements, and avoiding allegations of favouritism, the firms left out of the race.
The Russians and Americans had also been pressurising the government to expand the competition to allow their planes to enter the fray. The Air Force is also likely to take into account the performance of the respective planes during the previous trials which were quite extensive and tested the planes on almost 650 parameters.
This may also result in the project taking lesser time than usual, as the aircraft, which had participated in the programme earlier, has been developed further into better weapon systems.
The Air Force has been highlighting the shortage of planes to fight a two-front war even though it will start getting two squadrons of the Rafale combat aircraft from 2019 onwards.
As per the government reply in Parliament, the IAF will have 32 Fighter Squadrons and 39 helicopter units by 2020 The force is already finding it difficult to arrest the falling squadron strength due to delays in the induction of the indigenously manufactured LCA Tejas planes.
10 squadrons of IAF equipped with MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft are scheduled to retire by 2024 on completion of their total technical life, the government said. Due to lack of inductions in the force, the Su-30MKI has become the mainstay, as 11 to 12 squadrons would be deployed by 2020.
By: India Today
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