Process to procure 110 fighter jets begins

Updated - April 07, 2018 05:24 pm IST

Published - April 07, 2018 12:30 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Ministry of Defence on Friday initiated the formal process to buy 110 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) through a global tendering process.

The move comes almost two decades after the IAF began the last major effort to acquire fighters in large numbers. The effort culminated in the global tender for 126 fighters which was cancelled in 2015 after the Modi government decided to buy 36 Rafale fighters from France under a government-to-government deal.

In February this year, the government also scrapped a move to produce 114 single-engine fighters in India under the Make in India programme, after questions were raised about the narrow competition. The Request for Information issued on Friday for 110 fighters is the first step in a long-drawn complex process that could take several years to conclude. It would be the world’s biggest fighter jet tender in market right now.

The entire cost could be easily worth over $15 billion (almost ₹1 lakh crore), according to informal estimates.

The RFI says the government plans to buy the 110 fighters jets, of which 85% will have to be built in India under the Make in India programme in partnership with a “Strategic Partner/Indian Production Agency.”

The RFI does not specify if the fighter has to be a single, or a double engine, fighter, making it almost mirror the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender which was scrapped in 2015 in its final stages after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement in Paris to buy 36 Rafale fighters.

Opposition parties have alleged that Mr. Modi’s decision has caused huge financial loss to the country, while the IAF says the 36 fighters are not enough to meet its requirement to have 42 squadrons. IAF now has just 31 fighter squadrons.

Given the RFI specifications, IAF sources expect the competition to be a line up very similar to the MMRCA competition. New variations of Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Russia’s MIG-35, and Sweden’s Gripen are expected to compete. Many of these companies already have partners from Indian private sector, but it is not clear if the government would permit the private sector partners or insist on partnership with HAL.

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