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India Halves $20B Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft Program: Report

The Indian Air Force is cutting down its foreign fighter procurement program requirement from 114 to 57 aircraft, Business World revealed.

Moreover, the estimated $20 billion Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft program is likely to be executed through the Indian government’s “Buy Global Make in India” route, replacing the earlier strategic partnership model, the Indian publication added citing sources.

All the aircraft will be manufactured in India “with the transfer of technology by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to an Indian company.” The OEM will choose its Indian partner, the outlet specified.

Push for Indigenization 

The publication attributed the change to the government’s push for indigenization of defense equipment and building a domestic defense-industrial complex.

The government has also reportedly slashed the Indian Navy’s original requirement of 57 aircraft to 26. 

Seven defense firms, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dassault, Saab, a European consortium, Sukhoi, and MiG, responded to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) request for information for the 114 aircraft in 2018. 

Lockheed Martin is pitching its India-specific F-21 aircraft for the competition, while Boeing’s F-15EX and F/A-18 Super Hornet are in the race along with Dassault’s Rafale, Saab’s Gripen, and the European consortium’s Eurofighter, Sukhoi’s S-35 and MiG’s MiG-35.

The IAF is expected to issue a global tender for the 57 aircraft at year’s end.

IAF Rafale
The Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria (second from left) welcomes the first five Indian Air Force Rafale aircraft. Image: @IAF_MCC

Concerns Over Development

The Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft program was floated with the expectation of reversing the IAF’s dwindling fighter squadron (18 aircraft) strength from 30 to 35 in 15 years.

The IAF’s ideal squadron strength is 42. However, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said recently that the number is impossible to achieve in the “foreseeable future.”

The IAF launched the program following the cancellation of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program in 2015 over contractual disagreements between the Indian government and the preferred bidder, Dassault.

The Indian government signed another contract with the French defense firm in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale aircraft in fly-away condition afterward.

Reacting to the development, the outlet quoted a defense observer as saying that “a cutback in numbers by half makes it more challenging to execute a complex tender like this one. Numbers provide viability, cost-effectiveness and affordability.” 

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