February 7, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Indian Air Force has received a green light from their government to purchase 126 multi-role aircraft. They are now requesting information from four countries, the United States, France, Sweden and Russia.
Once all information has been received requests for proposals (RFPs) will be subimtted. Once those have been studied and technical evaluation has been carried out, commercial negotiations will start.
All the aircraft will be acquired from a single manufacturer. Whether it will be a single or twin engine jet is still an open question.
Dassault Aviation (France) and Lockheed Martin (USA) have long been considered frontrunners to upgrade the Indian air force. In addition to the Lockheed F-16 and Dassault Mirage 2000-5, New Delhi is also eyeing the Swedish-made Gripen fighter and the Russian MiG-29 M2.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has about 1,500 aircraft, but they lost a number jets, particularly Russian-made MiG-21s, which have been nicknamed "flying coffins" in India.
India's aging fleet of MiG-21s, dating back from the 60s and nicknamed "flying coffins" in India, is currently the backbone of its fighter inventory, which also includes other MiG aircraft. Its 1,500-plane air force also has French Mirage and Anglo-French Jaguar planes.
Obviously, by acquiring the new aircraft, they can get rid of some of their oldest machines.
There is no determined timeframe for the acquisitions but air chief marshal S.P. Tyagi wants them as soon as possible.
Consideration of Lockheed Martin would have been unthinkable just four years ago, when the United States maintained military sanctions against New Delhi following India's May 1998 nuclear tests. But sanctions were phased out starting in late 2001, and bilateral ties have since flourished
Aero India 2005, a five-day international aerospace and defence exposition, will start Feb 9 at the Yelahanka Indian Air Force (IAF) base. Billed as one of the largest air shows in South Asia, the fifth edition of the aero show will see global aerospace and aviation firms to showcase their aircraft, hi-tech products and technologies hopeing for lucrative deals and collaborative ventures with their Indian counterparts.
Boeing demoes its F15-E Strike Eagle alongside Russia's Sukhois, MiG-29 and MiG-21 jets and Dassault's Mirage 2000. Lockheed Martin is surprisingly enough not showcasing its F-16 Fighting Falcon.
However, the Indian air force did get the chance in October last year to go head-to-head with RSAF F-16s
during a joint exercise at Gwalior.
"F-16 is one of the aircrafts we are looking at along with three other aircrafts of similar capabilities. We are not only considering their multi-role combat capabilities but also air superiority," Tyagi said on the sidelines of an international aerospace seminar being held as part of the Aero India event.
The air chief also said India's home-grown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), whose development has been delayed by a decade due to US sanctions and technical difficulties, would also be flying with the IAF soon.
Last year, New Delhi decided to buy 66-advanced jet trainers from Britain in a deal worth more than a billion dollars which had been under negotiation since the 1980s.