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The Indian Air Force’s plan to acquire 114 multi-role fighter jets (MRFA) for $20 billion has been hit by delays in issuing Requests for Proposals (RFP). The tender, which is the largest for fighter jets, has made little or no progress in the last four years, causing concern among defence analysts.

However, there is hope that the process will move forward soon. Air Marshal Narmdeshwar Tiwari, the Deputy Chief of the Air Force, recently said that he expects the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for MRFA to be issued within the next three to four months.

IAF Chief VR Chaudhari has repeatedly emphasized the importance of acquiring 114 jets, saying that they are crucial to the revival of the IAF’s declining combat fleet. While the IAF supports indigenous programs like Tejas Mk2 and AMCA for its fleet growth over the next 20 years, there is no substitute for the MRFA.

The delay in the tender process has led to concerns about India’s defence preparedness, particularly in light of the growing security challenges in the region. However, the Indian government has assured that it is committed to modernizing the armed forces and enhancing their operational capabilities.

France, which has already sold 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force, is now trying to turn the MRFA tender into a Government-to-Government deal. The aim is to reduce delays and establish a second production line in India, which would further boost the export potential of the Rafale to other markets and alleviate pressure on the French production line. With its prior successful deal, France is considered a strong contender in the MRFA competition and hopes to secure the contract with this proposal.

According to sources familiar with the matter, IDRW has learned that the recent demonstration of the F-35A fighter jets in India was part of the US administration’s efforts to pitch its 5th generation fighter jet to India. The US is also trying to secure a deal for its 4.5th generation F-21 and F-15EX, even though they have a low chance of being selected by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The US administration is well aware of the French attempts to convert the MRFA tender into a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal. In response, the US has been preparing a counteroffer for its F-35A. People familiar with the matter have suggested that a G2G deal for the F-35A might not be far away.

The US administration is keen to have India on its side when it comes to China. They believe that the S-400 system operated by the IAF is unlikely to be a deal breaker if India is willing to install some of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) around the jet. By securing a deal for the F-35A, the US hopes to strengthen its strategic partnership with India and increase its exports of advanced fighter jets to the country.

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