Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rs 10,000cr deal likely for Mirage-2000 upgrade

NEW DELHI: Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Paris on Monday to further consolidate the ‘strategic partnership’ with France, the two countries are now all set to ink the around Rs 10,000 crore deal to upgrade the Mirage-2000 fighter jets in IAF’s combat fleet. This will be the second mega defence deal to be signed with France in recent times after the ongoing mammoth Rs 18,798 crore project to construct six Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai.

With defence secretary Vijay Singh being part of the PM’s entourage to Paris, sources said the announcement about the upgrade of the French-origin Mirages is very much on the cards during the trip. The ‘differences’ over the upgrade project had been ‘resolved’ after almost two years of hard-nosed negotiations, which were bogged down for some time because French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer) and Thales (weapons systems integrator) wanted close to Rs 14,000 crore for the programme.

‘‘The two sides have now arrived at a reasonable price around Rs 10,000 crore. The first four to six Mirages will be upgraded in France, with the rest 50 or so being upgraded in India by Hindustan Aeronautics under transfer of technology,’’ said a source.

Under the upgrade, the entire airframe will be stripped down to be re-wired and re-equipped with new avionics, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites and of course weapon systems to extend and enhance the operational life of the multi-role fighters by around 20 years.

India had first inducted 40 Mirages in the mid-1980s, with over 20 more being bought in later years. IAF has had a ‘good’ experience with the fighters, which successfully carried out ‘targeted bombings’ during the 1999 Kargil conflict. Some years ago, IAF had even pitched for the advanced Mirage-2000-Vs for its gigantic $10-billion project for 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

The defence ministry, however, told IAF to go in for ‘a global tender’ for the MMRCA project, and France too closed its Mirage production line. Now, the French Rafale is competing with American F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ (Boeing) and F-16 ‘Falcon’ (Lockheed Martin), Russian MiG-35 (United Aircraft Corporation), Swedish Gripen (Saab) and Eurofighter Typhoon (consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies) in the hotly-contested MMRCA race.

(Courtesy: TIMES OF INDIA)

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