SOURCE : VINAYAK SHETTI FOR IDRW.ORG
At height of Kargil War with Pakistan, in 1999, Indian Army then asked Indian Air Force to provide Air support to Indian ground troops and target Pakistani Army mens holding key positions in Mountain terrain of Kargil sector. Operation Safed Sagar was the code-name assigned to the Indian Air Force’s strike to support the Ground troops during Kargil war.
IAF deployed ground attack aircrafts like MiG-21s, MiG-23s, MiG-27s, Jaguars and Mirage 2000. Mig-29A due to its limited Air to Ground capabilities was deputed to provide fighter cover for other aircrafts in conflict zone in case Pakistani jets intervened, While older Sukhoi Su-30K was kept of the war due to limited numbers operated by IAF back then.
MiG-21 built mainly for air interception couldn’t deliver results with its limited Air to Ground capabilities, Strike Aircraft like Mig-27 and Jaguars which were primarily designed As low-level strike fighters, also couldn’t get good results due to high-altitude conflict zone .
It was Mirage-2000 armed initially with 250 kg “dumb” bombs and later with Laser-guided bombs which struck repeatedly heavily defended Mountains with precision. Mirage-2000 was declared best aircraft capable of optimum performance under the conditions of high-altitude seen in the zone of conflict , Aircraft not only took out Ground targets but also kept Pakistan Air Force operated Mirage-III and F-16 jets in vicinity in check due to its capabilities to engage in Air-Air roles if required.
Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirements were first felt after Kargil War, An aircraft which had the ability to multi-role between Air to Ground roles to Air to Air roles while flying same mission. IAF back then had recommended purchase of more modern Mirage-2000/V aircrafts since IAF had required skilled manpower and infrastructure already in place since it already operated Mirage-2000s in its fleet.
MMRCA requirements were never about getting better jets then Sukhoi-30MKI which was heavily optimized for Air Superiority, but to have Multi-Role Combat Aircraft which has ability to carry out several different level of combat missions in conflict zone.
Now after more than a decade been invested in testing and evaluating performances of many jets which were later offered after tender was opened up to other contenders. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar now has hinted that if the deal to buy French Rafale deal collapses and MMRCA tender is scrapped, India will go for Additional Sukhoi-30MKI which are already built in India and Operated by Indian Air Force in good numbers .
MMRCA was never about Sukhoi’s, there was a reason why Russian Sukhoi’s were never allowed to compete in tender in first place. Sukhoi-30MKI no doubt is very capable aircraft among modern fighter aircrafts operated around the world , but it belongs to Heaver class of aircrafts which is heavily optimized for Air Superiority roles both which neglects “Medium ” and ” Multi-Role” requirements which IAF wanted in the new aircrafts.
Purchase of Additional Sukhoi-30MKI will be a quick fix, but “Medium ” and ” Multi-Role” requirements, which IAF wanted in the new aircraft’s, will remain due to falling numbers of strike aircrafts in IAF fleet . Indian developed 5th-generation fighter jet ” AMCA ” which will be both “Medium ” and ” Multi-Role” in specification is still a decade away from entering into Indian air force fleet.
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