The Indian Air Force will hold limited trials of the American F-16 and Swedish Saab Gripen fighter aircraft for selecting the foreign partner to build 120 combat planes under the Make in India project.
The total worth of the deal is estimated to be around $20 billion (Rs 1.3 lakh crore).
IAF sources said the two planes had undergone extensive trials seven years ago when the IAF was evaluating aircraft for buying 126 mediummultirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA).
“We have chosen the two planes based on evaluation done by us seven years ago. For the Make in India project, we will now hold trials of only those capabilities which they were found to be lacking in these aircraft in those days,” an IAF officer told Mail Today.
Sources said during the M-MRCA trials, the F-16 was not selected as it was found that there was no potential for developing the aircraft further while the Saab Gripen did not have advanced radar called AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array), which was mandatory requirement in that project.
TESTING NEW CAPABILITIES
IAF sources said both the firms have informed the air force that they would be fully compliant to the requirements now as the American firm has come up with a latest version of the F-16 known as Block 70 while the Swedish firm has also acquired the advanced AESA radar.
“To test the new capabilities, there would a limited trial only and we are hoping to select and finalise the foreign partner within the next one year,” the IAF sources said.
The 120 single-engine fighter jets would be used by the IAF to replace its ageing fleet of the Russian MiG-series planes including the MiG-21s and the MiG-27s which form the backbone of the Indian fighter plane fleet.
Almost all the variants of the MiG-21s and MiG-27s would retire by the year 2025 and the IAF is hoping that their replacements would be ready for induction into the service in form of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft and the 120 ‘Made in India’ fighter planes.
The IAF has plans of inducting around 123 LCA combat jets as the NDA government recently gave clearance to a Rs 50,000 crore project to induct 83 planes and augment the rate of production of these planes in the state-owned HAL in Bangalore.
Meanwhile, the Navy is testing the American F-18 and the French Dassault for acquiring 57 twin-engine planes for its next aircraft carrier Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC).
Asked about the need for acquiring twin-engine fighter aircraft in the category of Rafale-36 which have been contracted for the IAF, the sources said India would hold a separate competition for those aircraft but only after the single engine fighter aircraft competition is completed.
The IAF has 33 squadrons of fighter aircraft in its inventory, which includes mainly single-engine planes like MiG 21s and MiG 27s along with Su-30MKI, MiG 29 and Jaguar.