The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to send out the request for information (RfI) for a $15-billion order for 100 fighter aircraft before the DefExpo starting April 11 in Chennai.
Speaking to FE, an official said, “The MoD is keen that generic RfI is out before the DefExpo – this means there will be no specific mention of single- or twin-engine aircraft requirements. And, all types of fighters that participated in medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender of 2007 would be eligible for consideration again.”
Explaining the procedure of issuing the RfI, former deputy Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Nirdosh Tyagi, who had been directly involved with the MMRCA process, told FE, “The defence procurement procedure-16 clearly states that RfI is not a commitment for procurement. An RfI is not structured as a rigid document, unlike an RfP. The nature of information to be sought through an RfI is clearly stated in the DPP-16. Fighter procurement has been on the list of the IAF for long. If there is requirement to issue an RfI expeditiously, I am sure the IAF will be able to do so.”
Boeing Company’s F-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Swedish Gripen, which had earlier lost out in field trials, would have upgraded their offerings by now to meet the qualitative requirements to be issued by the IAF shortly. French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian Mikoyan’s MiG-35 aircraft are also potential contenders under the new requirements.
Rafale has already sold 36 aircraft to the IAF and is hoping to increase that order size as well as ensure commonality of fleet with the Indian Navy’s requirement of 57 aircraft.
US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, reportedly wants to shift F-16 production line to India. Indian Navy could look at its latest fighter machines – F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant and F-35C carrier variant. In 2017, the company had tied up with Tata Advanced Systems as its local partner and currently is in talks with several other companies to build up the supplier network.
Boeing Company, which has been pushing its F-18 Super Hornet for both the IAF and the Indian Navy, is expected to announce a tie-up with Hindustan Aeronautics and Mahindra Group during the DefExpo later this month.
Swedish Gripen has offered to build planes in India in collaboration with local companies as part of the Make in India and Skill India initiatives.
In spite of the sanctioned strength of 42 combat squadrons required by the IAF, this has drastically come down to 31 at present. It would plummet further over the next decade despite addition of some Rafales and Light combat aircraft. There is requirement of at least 200 more fighter aircraft to maintain minimal squadron strength and capability.