Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cabinet clears Rs 6,600 crore French missile deal

NEW DELHI: India has cleared the Rs 6,600-crore acquisition of 490 French advanced missile systems to arm the Mirage-2000 fighter jets, which are being upgraded under a separate Rs 10,947 crore programme finalized in July, 2010.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared the contract for the fire-and-forget MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) with French armament major MBDA on Wednesday.

Sources say another major defence deal, the acquisition of 75 Swiss turbo-prop aircraft to train IAF rookie pilots for over Rs 3,000 crore, is likely to be cleared next week. IAF wants to induct the 75 Pilatus PC-7 basic trainers by 2013-14 since its 114 piston-engine HPT-32 aircraft have been grounded since August, 2009, due to repeated engine failures, leading to training of pilots being truncated.

TOI had earlier reported that all decks had been cleared for the MICA and Pilatus deals, even as the final calculations are underway to select the ``lowest bidder'' between French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon for the mega MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 top-notch fighters at a cost likely to touch $20 billion.

The MICA systems will be fitted on IAF's 51 Mirage-2000s, which are to be progressively upgraded with the help of French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer) and Thales (weapons systems integrator).

While the first two fighters have been sent to France for the upgrade, the rest 49 will later be retrofitted with new avionics, radars, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites, weapon delivery and precision-targeting systems in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The overall Mirage upgrade project cost will cross Rs 20,000 crore, and it will take over a decade to be completed. This has led to some criticism that it would probably have been better to go in for new fighters. IAF, however, swears by the Mirage-2000 fighters, which have had an excellent track record with the force.

Down to just 33-34 fighter squadrons (each has 16 to 18 jets) from a `sanctioned strength' of 39.5, IAF is going for a mix of new inductions and upgrades to retain its operational readiness even as it phases out older MiG variants.

For instance, 63 MiG-29s are being 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.

Besides, India plans to induct 250-300 stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) co-developed with Russia from 2020 onwards, in what will be its biggest-ever defence project at around $ 35 billion.


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