It is not only the fighter fleet, but also the other fleets in the In­dian Air Force (IAF) that need at­ten­tion of the pol­icy mak­ers and the lead­er­ship of the IAF


Key Pro­grammes A Sta­tus Up­date

The IAF is strug­gling with its pro­cure­ment plans. In the wake of the deal for 36 Rafale jets, the lat­est to be signed, the NDA gov­ern­ment is fac­ing rough times amid charges of cor­rup­tion and crony cap­i­tal­ism. While the in­dige­nous light com­bat air­craft (LCA) Te­jas, is strug­gling to get Fi­nal Op­er­a­tional Clear­ance (FOC) and is inch­ing to­wards it, the strength of the fleet of fighter air­craft in the IAF has shrunk to 31 squadrons.

Fac­ing a bar­rage of ques­tions on the Rafale and Te­jas, Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), in his an­nual press con­fer­ence, said that with the in­duc­tion of 36 Rafale jets and LCA Mk1A, the IAF would be able to ar­rest the de­plet­ing strength of the com­bat fleet. In­dia is ex­pect­ing the Rafale de­liv­ery to be­gin in the later part of 2019 and end­ing up by April 2022. The CAS said that the IAF has a plan for in­duc­tion of 231 LCA Te­jas which will in­clude four squadrons of LCA Te­jas Mk1A and six squadrons of LCA MkII. The LCA Te­jas is be­ing man­u­fac­tured by Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL). The IAF is ex­pect­ing de­liv­ery of the Mk1A to be­gin around

2021/22. The de­vel­op­ment of the LCA MkII is in progress.

One of the ma­jor causes of the de­plet­ing strength, apart from the in­abil­ity to in­duct new fighter air­craft from for­eign sources, is the de­lay in de­liv­ery by the Hin­dus­tan Aeo­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL). “There has been a de­lay in de­liv­ery against con­tracts al­ready awarded to HAL. There is a three-year de­lay in de­liv­ery of Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, six years de­lay in Jaguar up­grade, fiveyear de­lay in pro­duc­tion of LCA and a two-year de­lay in the up­grade of Mi­rage 2000,” the CAS said.

The IAF has been mak­ing ef­forts to re­place its vin­tage Rus­sian MiGs. The process be­gan in Au­gust 2007 when the IAF is­sued an RFP for 126 medium mul­ti­role com­bat air­craft (MM­RCA) which drew en­thu­si­as­tic par­tic­i­pa­tion from some of the world’s lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers of com­bat air­craft and was called ‘mother of all deals’. Af­ter Rafale was de­clared as the pre­ferred plat­form, the ten­der for 126 MM­RCA fell through as Das­sault Avi­a­tion did not agree with the of­fered terms.

In 2016, the IAF ini­ti­ated a process to ac­quire around 100 sin­gle-en­gine com­bat air­craft which saw re­sponse from Swedish Saab of­fer­ing the Gripen E and Amer­i­can Lock­heed Martin of­fer­ing F-16 block 70. This was again shelved and a fresh RFI was floated early this year for 114 air­craft to which re­sponse has been re­ceived from seven ven­dors, six of whom par­ticip[ated in the MM­RCA ten­der. The RFP is ex­pected to be is­sued in the near fu­ture.

The IAF is ex­pected to do lim­ited tri­als since most of the con­tender air­craft are the ones which par­tic­i­pated in the MM­RCA ten­der. This may ex­pe­dite se­lec­tion and early pro­cure­ment. How­ever, one can­not be sure that things will go as per plan as the ten­der­ing process has just be­gun. Even in the best case sce­nario, one can­not ex­pect the first air­craft to fly in be­fore 2024. The IAF is los­ing its fleet strength rapidly, but it has not been able to ac­quire re­place­ment air­craft, ex­cept for the Rus­sian Su-30 MKI which has been join­ing its fleet reg­u­larly. Had it not been for the Su-30 MKI, the IAF would have lost its fleet strength as well as su­pe­rior strike ca­pa­bil­ity vis-à-vis its ad­ver­saries. In the last two decades, in­stead of ac­quir­ing new com­bat air­craft, thanks to the cum­ber­some ac­qui­si­tion process and bud­getary short­ages, the IAF has been forced to up­grade its legacy air­craft in­clud­ing the Jaguar fleet.

The sit­u­a­tion is not grim only for the fighter fleet, but is the same for the trans­porta­tion wing – both in re­spect of fixed and ro­tary wing air­craft.

One of the ma­jor causes of the de­plet­ing strength, apart from the in­abil­ity to in­duct new fighter air­craft from for­eign sources, is the de­lay in de­liv­ery by HAL

“IAF should sign the con­tract for Avro re­place­ment by the end of this fi­nan­cial year.” —Air Chief Mar­shal BS Dhanoa


The age­ing fleets of Chetak and Chee­tah he­li­copters were to be re­placed by 197 light he­li­copters pur­chased from in­ter­na­tional ven­dors. Of these, 64 were to come to the IAF. The RFP was first floated in 2008 and again in 2009. Euro­copter AS 550 C3 Fen­nec and Rus­sian Kamov Ka-226 were the fi­nal con­tenders. How­ever, the ten­der was can­celled and re­placed by a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment deal with Rus­sia signed at the end of 2015 for 200 Ka-226T he­li­copters to be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia by HAL. The Share­hold­ers Agree­ment for the es­tab­lish­ment of a Joint Ven­ture to man­u­fac­ture the Ka-226T he­li­copters in In­dia was also signed in 2016. The project will be ex­e­cuted through a joint ven­ture (JV) be­tween HAL and Rus­sian He­li­copters. The JV agree­ment is ex­pected to be signed some­time this year. Out of 200 he­li­copters, the first 40 will come from Rus­sia, the sec­ond lot of 60 will be as­sem­bled in In­dia and the re­main­ing 100 will be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia.

Early in 2017, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi laid the foun­da­tion stone for a new he­li­copter man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for HAL in Tu­makaru, lo­cated 70 km North-West of Ben­galuru in Kar­nataka as a step in HAL’s ex­pan­sion of its he­li­copter pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity. The fi­nal hur­dle of giv­ing the or­der is ex­pected to be signed dur­ing the up­com­ing visit of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to In­dia to hold sum­mit talks with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.


While talk­ing about the Avro re­place­ment, the CAS said that the IAF is ex­pected to sign the con­tract by the end of this fi­nan­cial year. It has been seven years since the IAF started look­ing for an air­craft to re­place its fleet of 56 vin­tage medium-lift, tur­bo­prop trans­port air­craft pro­cured ini­tially from the United King­dom and then built un­der li­cense in In­dia. In 2012, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) ac­corded Ac­cep­tance of Ne­ces­sity (AoN) to the re­place­ment pro­gramme through ‘Buy & Make’ route.

Out of the 56 new air­craft to be ac­quired, 16 will be re­ceived in fly­away con­di­tion and 40 will be as­sem­bled in In­dia by an In­dian Pro­duc­tion Agency (IPA) from the pri­vate sec­tor. The Orig­i­nal Equip­ment Man­u­fac­turer (OEM) is to se­lect the IPA. In 2013, RFP for the project was is­sued to eight for­eign OEMs. In re­sponse to the RFP, only Air­bus, in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Tata Group, sub­mit­ted a techno-com­mer­cial bid of­fer­ing its C295 medium-lift trans­port air­craft and an In­de­pen­dent Com­mit­tee was con­sti­tuted to look into var­i­ous is­sues re­lated to the sin­gle ven­dor sit­u­a­tion.

The project was nearly shelved when the de­fence pub­lic sec­tor op­posed the project be­ing given to the pri­vate sec­tor. It was re­vived by the NDA Gov­ern­ment in 2014 and in 2015, the MoD cleared the ` 12,000 crore project. Af­ter ex­haus­tive user tri­als car­ried dur­ing the next two years, the con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tion com­mit­tee be­gan in­ter­ac­tion with the OEM in 2017.


The IAF is await­ing ad­di­tional air-to-air re­fu­elling air­craft. At present, six Rus­sian IL-78 in­ducted in 2003-04 ful­fils the IAFs mid-air re­fu­elling re­quire­ments. The first at­tempt to ac­quire an­other six tanker air­craft was made in 2006. The last two at­tempts failed due to cer­tain reser­va­tions re­lated to the cost of the air­craft. The Air­bus A330 MRTT, IL-78 and Boe­ing KC-46A Pe­ga­sus are the main con­tenders for the re­quire­ment. In Jan­uary this year, the IAF restarted its project for pur­chase of six mid-air re­fu­elling air­craft. Af­ter two sim­i­lar at­tempts, the third RFI was re­leased for the $2 bil­lion deal.


Com­ing to the de­lay in the up­grade pro­gramme of the An­gloFrench fleet of the Sepecat Jaguar deep pen­e­tra­tion strike air­craft, this is one of its pri­mary strike air­craft in the com­bat fleet. Out of the fleet of 140 air­craft ac­quired ini­tially, cur­rently around 125 re­main in ser­vice. In­ducted into the IAF some four decades back, it has un­der­gone mul­ti­ple up­grades in its avion­ics and weapons, keep­ing it rel­e­vant in its role. How­ever, the most im­por­tant com­po­nent of the air­craft, its en­gine, is yet to un­dergo upgradation.

The Jaguar fleet has com­pleted more than 30 years of ser­vice with the IAF. It has no spec­i­fied air­frame cal­en­dar life and is only based on Fa­tigue In­dex. Based on the in­di­vid­ual air­craft op­er­a­tional ex­ploita­tion, it is be­lieved that it has an ap­prox­i­mate resid­ual air­frame life of 15 to 20 years. Mod­erni­sa­tion will add an­other 20 years to the op­er­a­tional life of the air­craft. The de­ci­sion to re­place the en­gines must be made im­me­di­ately. Any fur­ther de­lay in pur­chas­ing the en­gines will be detri­men­tal to the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF.


At a time when the world is mov­ing to­wards fifth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft, In­dia is still pri­mar­ily fo­cused on air­craft of 4++ gen­er­a­tion. How­ever, the IAF did move to­wards it through an Indo-Rus­sian col­lab­o­ra­tion to de­velop such a plat­form for which an agree­ment was signed dur­ing the visit of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in 2007. It was es­ti­mated that the project would need an in­vest­ment of around $6 bil­lion with equal work share. The project was likely to take 10 years.

In De­cem­ber 2010, HAL and Rus­sian com­pa­nies Rosoboronex­port and Sukhoi, signed a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing for the pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work for the air­craft. In­dia was re­quired to in­vest $295 mil­lion in the pro­gramme. The pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work phase was ready by 2013. Things have not moved be­yond this. In De­cem­ber 2014, it was for the first time that the IAF ap­prised the MoD about the in­ad­e­qua­cies in the pro­posed FGFA on ac­count of which it did not con­sider the plat­form suit­able for in­duc­tion. In­dia has pulled out of the project.

In the mean­while, Aero­nau­ti­cal De­vel­op­ment Agency (ADA) has started work on the de­vel­op­ment of Ad­vanced Medium Com­bat Air­craft (AMCA) which will be man­u­fac­tured by HAL. The ex­pected time­line for the stealth air­craft will be be­yond 2030. This air­craft is ex­pected to re­place the Su-30 fight­ers.


IAF is also wait­ing for six Air­borne Warn­ing & Con­trol Sys­tem (AWACS) air­craft based on the Air­bus A330 air­craft. The six air­craft will be di­vided into batches of two and four. The plat­form will carry in­dige­nously de­vel­oped 360-de­gree cov­er­age ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray (AESA) radar. The IAF has pro­jected a re­quire­ment for this plat­form to dou­ble as an aerial tanker as well. The whole pro­gramme is ex­pected to cost around $2.5 bil­lion.



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