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Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 29, 2007
The Indian Air Force has moved one step closer towards replenishing its dwindling combat capabilities. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Defence floated a global tender for 126 fighter aircraft worth some $10 billion (Rs 42,000 crore). The 211-page request for proposal (RFP) has been issued to six vendors: MiG Corporation (MiG-35), Gripen International (JAS-39), Lockheed Martin (F-16 Fighting Falcon), Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Eurofighter Typhoon (a consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies) and Dassault (Rafale).
The IAF currently has 32 fighter squadrons, well below its sanctioned strength of 39-and-a-half.

The RFP encapsulates issues concerning transfer of technology (ToT), licensed production and lifetime maintenance support for the aircraft.

The first 18 aircraft will be purchased in flyaway condition and the remaining 108 manufactured in the country under a ToT agreement. The RPF says India will have the option to place a follow-on order for over 60 more fighters if required. The aircraft are likely to be in service for over 40 years.

The tender also contains an offset clause under which the foreign vendor will be required to reinvest 50 per cent of the value of the contract in the domestic defence manufacturing sector. The contract could take at least twoand-a-half years to conclude. The first fighters will take at least five to six years to arrive.

A defence ministry spokesman said the proposals from the contenders would be technically evaluated for compliance with IAF’s operational requirements and other stipulations in the RFP. Vendors will be shortlisted after extensive field trials. The commercial bids of the vendors will be examined and compared after that.

The IAF has been pushing the government to speed up the procurement of multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) to replace its ageing fighter fleet. There is also the prospect of losing air superiority over Pakistan. Its request for information for the MRCA deal was issued way back in 2001.

Tiding over depleting force levels is crucial for the IAF its existing 32 fighter squadrons are well below the sanctioned strength of 39-and-a-half. Worse, the squadron strength is projected to plunge to a lowly 27 during the 12th Plan (2012-2017). Pakistan has been striving to attain parity with the IAF with China supplying it the JF-17 fighters and the Americans, the F-16s. By 2011-12, the PAF is projected to operate 26 fighter squadrons.