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India to launch fresh hunt for fighter aircraft, twin-engine planes on radar

The count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons has reduced to 32 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war. The Chinese and Pakistani air forces operate 60 and 25 fighter squadrons respectively.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2018 20:36 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
IAF,Indian fighter jets,Indian Air Force
Air Force fighter jets carrying out a fly-past in New Delhi. (PTI File Photo)

The Centre is preparing to launch a fresh hunt for fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force while widening the scope of its search, an official familiar with the development said.

The NDA government is in the process of laying the groundwork for a new global tender for warplanes, which would be built in India in collaboration with a foreign aircraft maker, this person said. A defence ministry spokesperson, however, said on Friday that no decision had been communicated to her office.

A plan to locally produce single-engine fighters in collaboration with a global defence contractor has been dropped to expand the scope of the competition by including twin-engine fighters too. HT had reported on December 15 last year that the plan faced an uncertain future with the defence ministry treading cautiously as a single vendor situation might crop up.

US defence contractor Lockheed Martin and Swedish firm Saab were the only two companies exploring opportunities to build F-16s and Gripens in India.

The earlier plans involved pursuing two separate projects under the Make in India initiative to build single-engine and twin-engine planes in the country. Both these plans had not taken off.

The count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons has reduced to 32 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war. The Chinese and Pakistani air forces operate 60 and 25 fighter squadrons respectively.

India floated a global tender for 126 planes more than a decade ago but it was cancelled after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in April 2015 that India would buy 36 Rafale jets from France under a government-to-government deal.

The IAF is looking at inducting the French-origin fighters by 2022 to bolster its combat capability. India signed a $8.7-billion deal with France for two Rafale squadrons in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the IAF’s capabilities. The fighters will be delivered to the IAF September 2019 onwards.

The IAF also plans to deploy 123 Tejas light combat aircraft over the next decade. The IAF’s first Tejas squadron, raised in 2016, consists of only five planes.

Also, India is yet to take a call on whether it should co-develop a stealth fighter with Russia, with the IAF having strong reservations about going ahead with the multi-billion dollar fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project.

First Published: Feb 23, 2018 20:30 IST