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SOURCE: SP Guide Publication

The Indian Air Force (IAF) intends to acquire one squadron of fighter aircraft in fly away condition from a foreign OEM before inducting Made in India jets in its next big procurement programme for 114 multi-role fighters, SP’s Aviation has learnt from highly-placed Government sources.

Despite the processing of this acquisition under the new Strategic Partnership (SP) Model, the pattern of getting the first squadron as direct fly away jets stays the same as in the earlier abortive August 2007 tender for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). The authorised strength for an IAF combat squadron is 18 jet fighters. The stated objective is to commence induction of a modern fighter jet in a shorter time frame in the backdrop of the staggering decommissioning calendar of the IAF’s legacy jets, which threatens to push India’s fighter squadron strength to below acceptable thresholds by 2025.

The stated objective is to commence induction of a modern fighter jet in a shorter time frame in the backdrop of the staggering decommissioning calendar of the IAF’s legacy jets, which threatens to push India’s fighter squadron strength to below acceptable thresholds by 2025. The direct acquisition also makes the deal more attractive for the OEM, which will be a technology provider to an Indian SP partner in delivering the rest of the jets.

Besides the 114 MRFAs, the only new fourth generation jets provisioned so far in the IAF force structure are 123 indigenous LCA Tejas and 12 license-produced Su-30MKIs, besides 21 refurbished second-hand MiG-29s.

Also, significantly, the new 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) procurement is planned to be processed under the provisions of the 2016 edition of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), despite a process revision scheduled in February 2020. This suggests that the IAF is expecting approval from the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) to kick-start the acquisition process sooner than February 2020.

With Transfer of Technology, Make in India and localised supply chain a big factor in the selection process, the OEM would also be required to share identified technologies to enable building up Indian design and development capability for future programmes, sources disclosed

“We’ve started the process for (getting an) Acceptance of Necessity (approval of the DAC for initiating the procurement),” the new Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria had declared at his maiden press conference on October 4 in New Delhi. His remarks that “there’s no separate plan for an additional 36 Rafale” fighters were also revealing.

Six OEMs had responded in July 2018 to the preliminary Request for Information (RFI). Now with the categorisation done for acquisition under the SP Model, the case is being made for DAC approval for the procurement which could cost up to 1,50,000 Crore ($21 Billion).

Under the SP Model, DAC approval is followed by issuance of Expression of Interest (EoI) to Indian hopefuls and foreign OEMs separately. The process for issuance of a Request for Proposal (RFP) – or a tender – could take up to a year thereafter.

Shortlisted Indian SP hopefuls – who will be selected on the basis of technical and financial criteria (gates) – will be required to tie up with shortlisted OEMs to submit bids. The RFP will be issued to the Indian companies.

With Transfer of Technology, Make in India and localised supply chain a big factor in the selection process, the OEM would also be required to share identified technologies to enable building up Indian design and development capability for future programmes, sources disclosed.

In what is being seen as a re-run of the MMRCA tender, United Aircraft Corporation’s Mig-35, Boeing’s F/A-18, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Saab’s Gripen, Dassault’s Rafale and the European consortium’s Eurofighter are in the fray for the IAF’s MRFA competition