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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is reportedly considering eliminating the Russian offer of its fighter jets from the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) tender for 114 jets even before the Request for Proposal (RFP) is sent to prospective Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). This decision, if approved by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), marks a significant shift in India’s defence procurement strategy.

The IAF recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the MRFA tender, to which Russia responded with offers of its Su-35 and Mig-35 fighter jets. However, it appears that the IAF is now leaning toward excluding these Russian options in the early stages of the procurement process.

Several factors contribute to this decision. First, the IAF already operates the Su-30MKI, which belongs to the same heavyweight class as the Sukhoi Su-35. The IAF’s preference is to diversify its fighter jet fleet, and it is not interested in acquiring more heavy-weight class aircraft.

Second, the Mig-35, based on the improved Mig-29 airframe, has had previous interactions with the IAF during the now-cancelled Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) tender. Unfortunately, it failed to clear the technical trials and could not meet the key requirements specified by the IAF.

Sources familiar with the matter suggest that if the MoD approves the IAF’s request, both Russian offers might be excluded from the MRFA tender’s initial stages.

This decision aligns with the IAF’s broader strategy to reduce its reliance on Russian-origin fighter jets and gradually transition to domestically manufactured aircraft. The focus is now on procuring homegrown fighter jets like the Tejas Mk1A, Tejas Mk2, and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Notably, this shift is also influenced by Western economic sanctions, making it increasingly challenging to procure Russian military equipment. If this plan comes to fruition, any fighter jets acquired under the MRFA tender will likely be the last of foreign-origin aircraft to be inducted into the IAF.

The IAF’s determination to modernize its fleet with a focus on indigenous aircraft showcases India’s growing self-reliance in defence technology and the desire to strengthen its strategic autonomy in the defence sector. The decision also reflects the IAF’s commitment to maintaining a diversified and capable fighter jet fleet.

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