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As the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) seeks Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approval for the twin-engine advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) plans to procure 114 jets under the Medium Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) tender face continued delays.

The AMCA program, spearheaded by the Aeronautical Development Authority (ADA), has reached a critical stage with the design of the fifth-generation stealth fighter finalized. The DRDO is now seeking CCS approval to move forward with the program’s next phase.

Meanwhile, the MRFA tender, which aims to acquire multi-role fighter jets from a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM), has been plagued by delays and complexities. The tender, estimated to cost around $20 billion, has yet to reach the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) stage, a crucial step before the Request for Proposal (RFP) can be issued.

IAF officials are in discussions with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to determine the future course of the MRFA tender, as the program’s prospects diminish in light of India’s growing emphasis on developing indigenous fighter jets.

The Tejas MkII program received CCS clearance last year, and the AMCA program is expected to follow suit by mid-2024. With the focus shifting towards homegrown fighter jets, the MRFA tender’s likelihood of gaining traction appears to be fading.

Sources familiar with the MRFA program suggest that the IAF may need to accept the reality of the situation and abandon the tender. Instead, the IAF may consider increasing the number of Dassault Rafale fighter jets to be manufactured locally, along with the additional 26 Rafale M jets ordered for the Navy.

Dassault has proposed to the MoD that it take complete ownership of Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) and establish a fighter manufacturing facility in India for both the IAF and export markets. However, Dassault seeks 100% ownership of DRAL.

While the MoD and IAF may settle for a smaller number of Rafale jets, potentially adding four more squadrons to the IAF’s fleet within the next four to five years, Dassault requires a firm order commitment from the IAF before proceeding with the DRAL acquisition.

The future of the MRFA tender remains uncertain as the IAF grapples with the decision of whether to pursue the acquisition of foreign fighter jets or prioritize the development and production of indigenous aircraft like the AMCA.

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