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IAF to induct 125 fighters to replace ageing MiG fleet
A K Dhar in New Delhi |
February 29, 2004 18:57 IST
The Indian Air Force is in hectic negotiations with French, Russian and US bidders to purchase 125 frontline multi-role fighters to partially replace about 300 MiG-21 aircraft, which are on the verge of being phased out.
The IAF had projected an immediate need for about 125 new fighter planes with the selection to be completed in a few months. Some of the newly-purchased aircraft are likely to be given to the newly-raised Strategic Forces Command.
The new fighters would seek to partially replace 300 MiG 21 FL/M interceptors and 100 MiG 23BN ground attack fighters, which are on the verge of being phased out.
India, officials said, was expected to go in for direct purchase of the fighters in a bid to allow the Aircraft Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited more time to make progress on the Tejas, country's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which may be inducted only in 2009.
With the delay in the LCA programme, the IAF is in danger of entering a critical phase as it faces reduction in its fighter fleet from the current 39 squadrons to 32 by 2006.
The French-built Mirages, with their proven capability during the Kargil war and in Operation Parakram, are emerging as frontrunners. Dassault, while offering the upgraded Mirage 2000-5, is also ready for technology transfer arrangement to HAL. A high-level team from the company was recently in Delhi for protracted negotiations with the Defence Ministry and Indian Air Force officials.
The two major Russian fighter companies Mikoyan, makers of the MiG range of fighters, and Robensoexport, makers of Sukhoi aircraft, have formed a consortium to jointly bid for the Indian contract, according to Defence Ministry sources in Delhi.
The joint bid stems from India eliminating the Sukhoi OKB and NPK Irkut's offer of lighter versions of the still-to-be-developed SU-35 and SU-30 fighters.
The IAF wants a fighter with a maximum take off weight of 25,000 kg, forcing the Sukhoi company to join hands with Mikoyan to back the upgraded MiG-29MI/M2 for the contract. However, the Russian proposal seems to be a non-starter as Mikoyan cannot meet the Indian time schedule because it will be heavily engaged in the manufacture of the MiG 29K for the Admiral Gorshkov, which India has contracted to purchase.Another contender is US company Lockheed-Martin, which is offering technology transfer of its runway bestseller F-16 Fighting Falcon.