Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian Future Aircraft

The Indian Air Force currently operates around 250 MiG-21 aircraft. On account of metal fatigue and dated equipment, several MiG-21s used in training roles have crashed over the past six years, killing over 50 IAF pilots. Also, they are nearing the end of their service life having been in the IAF for many decades and are being decommissioned at an increasing pace. The IAF initially planned to replace the MiG-21 fleet with indigenously-built HAL Tejas aircraft by 2006. However, the target could not be met due to developmental delays and a US sanction, following the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, which blocked the delivery of GE F404 engines - a crucial component of the LCA.

The Indian Air Force has a requirement for combat aircraft to replace the MiG-21 in service. The Mirage-2000 were considered as a replacement. However, Dassault announced that it has shut down the assembly line of the Mirage-2000. Hence the IAF included the Mig-29M/M2, Gripen and F-16 in its itinerary of consideration. This was the first time in the IAF's history that an American aircraft was being considered. Later the number of manufacturers was widened to include heavy-weight aircraft like the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Dassault Rafale. In an interview, the then Air Chief of the IAF M. Shahindra Pal Tyagi admitted to allowing heavy-weight aircraft to compete, "to allow more competition".

The limited series production of the indigenous LCA Tejas aircraft is ongoing at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The aircraft is supposed to get full operational clearance by 2010-12, as the Tejas' development has been accelerated. It is believed that the MRCA's procurement may take a much longer time than Tejas' induction in the IAF, and its subsequent mass production. The air force has issued an Intent (RoI) for procurement of MRCA (Multi Role Combat Aircraft). The following aircraft are participating: Russian MiG-35, French Rafale, European Eurofighter Typhoon, Swedish Gripen and the US F-16C. Besides the F-16Cs, the US has also offered the sale of F-16 Block 70 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet combat aircraft. IAF pilots and technicians are familiar with earlier aircraft from MiG and Dassault and would need minimal retraining. Infrastructural and logistical support for maintenance and spares would also be easier for these aircraft compared to the unfamiliar Gripens, F-16s and F/A-18s. Moreover, many analysts feel that the US, whose unpredictable foreign policy might clamp sanctions at any time, cannot be a reliable supplier[citation needed].

Apart from the 126 multi-role combat aircraft, 180 Su-30MKI air superiority fighters (out of the 230 Su-30MKI fighters ordered, 80 are already in service with the IAF), 220 Light Combat Aircraft, 29 Jaguar combat aircraft, 4 Tu-22M3 bombers, the Indian Air Force has signed contracts for 66 BAE Hawk-132 trainers (deliveries in the pipeline), 80+ combat helicopters, 3 new Long Range UAVs, 8 mid-air refueling planes, 225+ HJT-36 Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer aircraft and some additional medium-range transport aircraft. The Indian Air Force plans to upgrade its fleet of Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 aircraft.

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