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IAF to buy all 126 aircraft from one vendor

Putting aside rumours of multi-vendor acquisition IAF says it will acquire its 126 Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) from a single manufacturer.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2007 15:45 IST
Gulshan Luthra and (retd) Air Marshal Ashok Goel
Gulshan Luthra and (retd) Air Marshal Ashok Goel

Putting aside rumours of multi-vendor acquisition, the Indian Air Force (IAF) says it will acquire its 126 Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) from a single manufacturer.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal FH Major said in an interview to a defence magazine: "The world's single biggest fighter jet order jet will go to one supplier.

"It doesn't make any sense to go to two or three sellers just to keep different countries happy."

He said there was no proposal at the moment to increase the order to 200 aircraft but "a review after induction, based on cost-benefit analysis, is of course possible in future".

The air chief said although the process of issuing tenders had taken time, "all possible issues" are being verified in advance.

"The first squadron of 18 new jets will be inducted within five years (by 2012)," he said.

Senior officers of the defence ministry also indicated the same time period, pointing out that the new acquisition procedures under the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) 2006 would facilitate time-bound technical evaluation by the IAF followed by financial clearance by the ministry.

"After issuance of tenders around July the laid down procedure will be followed which is very objective, transparent and time-bound," Major said.

The interview, conducted on the eve of the Paris Air Show, will be published in the July issue of the India Strategic, a defence magazine.

The initial deal for the 126 jets is estimated at $10 billion, inclusive of the aircraft as well as training and weapons package, the latter accounting for some 25 per cent of the overall costs.

Future upgrades, to be conducted twice or thrice during the estimated 40 year life of the aircraft, would be additional.

Major said the air force wanted to reduce the inventory in its combat jet arsenal to three aircraft systems only, and over the next few years, it would use the home-made Tejas as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the new MRCAs as the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and the 35-tonne SU30-MKIs as the Heavy Combat Aircraft (HCA).

The SU30-MKI is a near fifth generation fighter giving IAF substantial strategic reach, and although this aircraft is still in the process of acquisition, future upgrades for it are already being planned to ensure that it retains "its cutting edge" over the coming decades.

The MCA and LCA would be given a technological edge on similar lines and the key to the acquisition of the new MRCAs, from among a choice of six vendors, would be the "technology and multi-role capability".

The air chief said that while the selection criteria for MRCA - called the Air Staff Requirements (ASR) - are secret, the air force wanted the new fighter jets to be "contemporary and futuristic and with a cost-benefit angle".

"Broadly speaking, we want a medium weight, multi role combat aircraft that can undertake air defence, ground attack, maritime attack (anti-ship) and reconnaissance roles with ease.

"We want the aircraft to have adequately long-range and endurance to meet our operational requirements with additional mid-air refuelling capability and ease of maintenance and low life-cycle costs."

This is the first time the IAF has indicated the capabilities that it wants in the MRCA.

Both Major and his predecessor SP Tyagi have said technologies like the new AESA radar, which give a pilot the capability to acquire targets far away say 100 nautical miles plus as well as to use the same system as a communication platform to "talk" to his colleagues and command, will be vital in the selection process.

At the moment, this still evolving technology is best available with the US companies, primarily Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, while the Russians and others are also developing their versions.

Whether these technologies will be available to India, the answer is yes from all the vendors. But whether India would have Transfer of Technology (ToT) rights is still not known.

According to Raytheon International President Torkel Patterson, whose company is supplying this technology on US bombers and the F-18 Super Hornets, "it would depend upon the agreements between the Indian and US governments" because the manufacturer has no control on export of sophisticated technologies.

He told India Strategic at the Paris Air Show last fortnight that Raytheon was, however, already configuring the AESA radar for the Boeing F18, Lockheed Martin F16 and Swedish Gripen.

The three other aircraft in the fray are Russian Mig 35, French Rafale and European Consortium's (Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain) Eurofighter.

(Gulshan Luthra and Air marshal Ashok Goel are defence analysts and can be reached at

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