Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 10
Looking to cut costs and prune military imports, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has halved its demand for Russian-built fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).
It now wants just three squadrons of the fighter jets which are to be inducted into the Russian Air Force in 2016.
Sources say the IAF has scaled down its needs and now indicated that just three squadrons (around 18 planes in each), besides a few more for training of the pilots, will be enough for now. This works out to be 65 planes, almost half from the earlier projection of 127 FGFAs to be jointly designed and produced by India and Russia.
The T-50 has been built for the Russians under the PAK-FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) programme for the fifth generation fighter aircraft.
A plane will cost $100 million (Rs 650 crore). Three squadrons are the projection of an off-the-shelf deal India is pressing its military ally for immediate delivery of the planes.
New Delhi has suggested to Moscow that the T-50 fighter jet can be supplied to the IAF, while the research to improve upon the aircraft can carry on simultaneously. The Tribune had first reported about India’s offer on February 24 this year.
Simultaneously, the IAF is also working on a $11 billion R&D contract for long-term development of the jet. It is pending ratification since 2013. In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha on August 4, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the preliminary design stage of the fifth generation fighter aircraft programme completed in June 2013.
“The expenditure incurred so far is Rs 1,483.15 crore,” Parrikar said. The next stage of development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft will commence after signing of the R&D contract.
The problem is in case India opts for the R&D contract route, the deliveries are envisaged to commence 94 months – eight years. The next best option is to go for an immediate off-the-shelf purchase and in case the research-and-development contract works out, more jets can be produced here.
With a dwindling fleet of fighter jets, this wait is not an option for the IAF, said sources. By the end of this year, the IAF would be at its lowest combat strength in more than a decade. It will be down to 32 squadrons by the end of this year and in the middle of a predicted shortage.
In a nutshell, the IAF with 576 fighter jets will be well short of the 750-strong fighter jet fleet mandated by a government sanction to wage a simultaneous two-front war with Pakistan and China.
The pruning down of numbers has been done as the IAF is backing its own options of getting French-origin Rafale jets and the remaining batch of 72 Sukhoi-30 MKI jets from Russia, sources say.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to France in April this year announced the intent to get 36 Rafale jets. A cost negotiation committee is in talks with the French company and the numbers could go beyond the announced 36 as the IAF has projected a demand for 80 Rafale-type planes.
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