Saturday, November 26, 2011

Decks cleared for Rs 5000 crore IAF deal for missiles, trainer jets

All decks have been cleared for two crucial defence deals, together worth over Rs 5,000 crore, to acquire 75 Swiss turbo-prop aircraft to train rookie pilots as well as around 450 advanced French missiles to arm upgraded Mirage-2000 multi-role fighters.

Defence ministry sources say the two deals have now been "sent" to the Cabinet Committee on Security for the "final nod" after "clarifying all objections" of finance ministry. "The contracts will be inked after the CCS clears within a week or so," said a source.

This comes at a time when MoD and IAF are busy calculating the "lowest bidder" between French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon for the mega medium multi-role combat aircraft
project to acquire 126 fighters at a cost likely to touch $20 billion. But while these fighter deliveries will begin from 2015 , IAF wants to induct trainers earlier to train new pilots. The hurry to acquire 75 Swiss Pilatus PC-7 basic trainers is critical since IAF's 114 piston-engined HPT-32 jets have been grounded since August 2009 due to repeated engine failures.

"We want to begin our first course on the Pilatus trainers from July 2013," said a senior officer. IAF, of course, is already inducting 123 British Hawk AJTs (advanced jet trainers), at a cost of around Rs 16,000 crore, but they are meant for "advanced'' combat training. The contract for the around 450 fire-and-forget, all-weather MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) systems with French company MBDA, too, has been in the pipeline for quite some time.

It flows from the Rs 10,947 crore programme finalized in July for an upgrade of 51
Mirage-2000s with the help of French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer)
and Thales (weapons systems integrator).

While the first two fighters are being sent to France next month for the upgrade, the remaining 49 will later be "souped up" with new avionics, radars, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites, weapon delivery and precision-targeting systems by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in India. The overall upgrade project cost will go beyond Rs 15,000 crore over the decade it will take to be completed. Down to just 33-34 fighter squadrons (each has 16 to 18 jets) from a 'sanctioned strength' of 39.5

The 63 MiG-29s are to be upgraded under a $964 million deal inked with Russia in March
2008. Then, apart from the 126 MMRCA, IAF is also inducting 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted
from Russia for around $12 billion. Moreover, the first lot of the around 120 indigenous
Tejas Light Combat Aircraft will join IAF from end-2013 onwards. On top of this all, India plans to induct 250-300 stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft co-developed with Russia from 2020 onwards, in what will be its biggest-ever defence project at around $35 billion.

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