A decision on the much awaited Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) is expected to be taken next month and the contract could be signed by September this year. Outlining the roadmap for the acquisition of 126 planes, Chief of Air Staff P.V. Naik said the broad time schedule would be adhered to provided there were no hurdles en-route.

Having completed arduous work over complex offset calculations, the stage is now set for the government to take the decision to identify the vendor with which negotiations would start to procure the aircraft, 18 of which would be in ready-to-fly condition, and the rest produced in India.

Once the government makes its choice, Cost Negotiation Committee will set into motion and hopefully the entire process should be over latest by September, setting the stage for signing of the contract. However, the only unknown element in this, as Air Chief Marshal Naik said, is how other competitors took the decision. “If other competitors [who lose out in the race] “put spokes in,” then the timelines would get pushed back. Six manufacturers, Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Lockheed Martin (F-16 Super Viper), Cassadian's [formerly EADS) Eurofighter, Russian MiG35, SAAB (Gripen) and Dassault (Rafale) are vying for the order that is estimated at $10.2 billion. The IAF had conducted exhaustive field evaluation trials and submitted its report to the Defence Ministry last July.

The Ministry since than has worked with the manufacturers to work out the off-set obligation, which in this case is 50 per cent. In effect, it means the manufacturers will have to invest 50 per cent of order value in the country, a process that required detailed calculations leading to contentions over what could be considered or not.

While the selection of the MMRCA is awaited, the Air Chief has said it plans to upgrade existing platforms is on course.

“Negotiations with France on Mirage 2000 upgrades are complete,” he said adding that with the intended changes including integrated modern cockpit with glass cockpit, new avionics, modern sensors, electronic warfare equipment and new weapons system the life of the aircraft would be extended by 20 years.

The other frontline strike aircraft Sukhoi will be getting the state-of-the-art AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, which the Russians have offered to put on both existing fleet. The programme will be implemented by the Defence Research Development Organisation in collaboration with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Speaking separately, HAL officiating Chairman D. Shivamurthi said the Public Sector manufacturer hopes to deliver the 100th Sukhoi by May this year. The IAF had ordered 140-plus aircraft and the HAL hopes to get an order of additional 42 planes.