India Air Force is seeking to buy around 110 fighter jets, the air force said in a request for information (RFI) issued on Friday, marking the first step toward a long-delayed deal that could be worth more than $15 billion before the DefExpo starting April 11, 2018, in Chennai.
Of the planes, 15% have to be in flyaway condition with the remaining 85% to be made in India by a strategic partner, according to the terms of the request for information (RFI) issued by the defence ministry on Friday. Vendors have until July 6 to submit responses to the RFI, and the Indian air force wants to issue a formal request for proposals within six to 12 months of getting those responses, according to the Times of India.
The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin, Saab and Dassault Aviation are among the manufacturers expected to compete for an upcoming fighter jet acquisition program, reports Reuters. French firm Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian Mikoyan’s MiG-35 aircraft are also potential contenders under the new requirements.
IAF Acquisition Planning
India began its search for new planes for the Indian air force in 2003 to replace its Soviet-era MiG-21, and MiG-27 fighters are scheduled for retirement by 2022.
The tender will be open for makers of both single engine and twin-engined combat jets, in a widening of the field. The Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian aircraft are also potential contenders under the new requirements.
The air force wants to accelerate acquisition to build up its fighter squadrons, of which it now has 31, each with 18 planes. It sees 42 or more squadrons as necessary to fight a two-front war.
In 2015, visiting Paris, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement to buy 36 Rafale jets in a fly-away condition through an inter-governmental agreement, citing “critical operational necessity” of the IAF. After some tough negotiations in September 2016, the two countries concluded a €7.87-billion deal for 36 aircraft, spares, weapons and a five-year maintenance guarantee.
The latest request for information is a revision of an earlier request that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the air force to expand to include twin-engine aircraft and attracted high-profile weapons manufacturers, Bloomberg reported in February.
India has had contentious relations with China, particularly along the two countries’ shared border.
Disputes there have led to conflicts in the past, and in summer 2017 New Delhi and Beijing clashed in a months-long standoff around an area called the Doklam, or Donglang, near China’s and India’s borders with Bhutan.
That showdown eased in late August, but both sides still have military personnel stationed there. In the months since India has deployed Su-30 MKI combat aircraft to airbases in the region. In February, China sent J-10B and J-11 fighters to Tibet, which borders India, after exercises that Chinese commentators linked to the recent tensions.
Make in India Initiative
US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which reportedly wanted to shift F-16 production line to India, is now offering 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.
- F-16 Block 70 – Lockheed Martin & Tata Advanced Systems partnered to manufacture F-16 Block 70 in India
- F/A-18 Super Hornet – The Boeing Company, the Mahindra Group & Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) to explore the co-manufacture of its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter in India
- Gripen E – Saab Defence & Adani Group of India partnered to produce Gripen E/F in India
- MiG-35 – MiG-35 cannot compete due the stipulation set by IAF that the proposed fighter jet must have GaN-based AESA radar which Russian radar lacks.
- Dassault Rafale – A joint venture of Reliance Aerospace and Dassault Aviation — Dassault-Reliance Aeropace Ltd. — was inaugurated in October 2016 in order to manufacture radar and electronic warfare sensors for the 36 Rafale aircraft and become part of the global supply chain of Dassault’s civilian jet, the Legacy Falcon 2000 series.
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