IAF pushes Rs 1.5 lakh cr ‘Make In India’ deals for 170 aircraft
With the budget done and dusted, the IAF is now finalising two long-pending mega ‘Make in India’ projects worth about Rs 1.5 lakh crore ($22 billion). But while the project for 56 medium transport aircraft by the Tata-Airbus consortium is set to take off this year, the much bigger one for 114 fighter jets will take several years to reach that stage.
Sources said IAF, which will receive the first four Rafale fighters in France in September under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked for 36 such jets in 2016, is pushing for the RFP (request for proposal) in the 114-fighter project to be issued by late-2019 or early-2020.“The 114-fighter project is crucial because the 36 Rafales and the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (only 16 of planned 123 jets inducted till now) will not make up for the fast depleting numbers (IAF is down to just 30 fighter squadrons when 42 are required). There is an urgent need to plan for the future,” said a source.
The 36 Rafale jets, armed with deadly Meteor and Scalp missiles, are to be delivered in the September 2019-April 2022 timeframe to constitute two squadrons. The first four Rafales will touch down at the Ambala airbase only in May next year after training of the IAF induction team of 10 pilots, 10 flight engineers and 40 technicians in France, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The Rafale is among the seven contenders for the 114-fighter project worth over Rs 1.25 lakh crore under the defence ministry’s ‘strategic partnership’ model. The others are F/A-18 and F-16 (US), MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35 (Russia), Gripen-E (Sweden) and Eurofighter Typhoon.
“The ASQRs (air staff qualitative requirements) for the 114 jets have been finalised after discussions with the vendors. IAF will soon move the defence acquisitions council (DAC) for acceptance of necessity and issuance of the RFP. But the entire selection process will take at least five years,” said the source.
The Tata-Airbus joint venture for 56 twin-turboprop tactical C-295 aircraft, however, is almost final now. “The extensive trials and CNC (contract negotiations committee) are over now. DAC this month will take up the project to approve certain deviations before sending it to the cabinet committee on security for the final nod,” the source said.
The project, initially valued at Rs 11,929 crore, was meant for the Indian private sector to enter aerospace manufacturing despite stiff PSU resistance. The C-295 planes will replace IAF’s old Avro aircraft, first inducted in the early 1960s. While Airbus will supply the first 16 aircraft, the remaining 40 will be built in India within eight years.
The C-295s will also take on some “tasks” of the ageing AN-32 fleet, which has witnessed two major accidents in which 42 military personnel were killed in the Bay of Bengal in July 2016 and in Arunachal Pradesh in June.“The C-295 has higher safety margins for flying over oceans and mountainous terrain. For instance, it has a very high single-engine drift down altitude… Even if one engine fails, it can maintain 17,000-18,000 feet altitude. The aircraft can also find buyers in the civil aviation sector,” said the source.