New Delhi: With the Cabinet clearing the production of 83 indigenous Tejas fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF), India is now formally moving ahead to procure 21 MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters from Russia, along with upgrades of their existing fleets.
The RFP (request for proposal) for the 21 MiG-29 fighters, whose bare airframes are lying in a mothballed condition in Russia since the late-1980s, will soon be issued to Russian state-run defence export arm Rosoboronexport, said defence sources.
The acquisition of these MiG-29s at “relatively lower prices” will add to 59 such jets already with IAF. The 12 Sukhoi-30MKIs, in turn, will add to the 272 such jets already contracted from Russia for about US$15 billion, with the bulk of them being licensed produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). IAF has so far inducted 268 of the original 272 Sukhois, with at least nine of them being lost in crashes over the years.
Along with the 83 new Tejas, which will be inducted in the January 2024-December 2028 timeframe under Rs 46,898 crore deal cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the additional MiG-29s and Sukhois are meant to stem the freefall in the number of IAF fighter squadrons.
With the progressive phasing out of the obsolete MiG-21s, MiG-23s and MiG-27s, the force is down to just about 30 squadrons (each has 16-18 jets) when at least 42 are required to tackle the “collusive” threat from China and Pakistan. The remaining four MiG-21 “Bisons” squadrons are also slated to retire by 2024.
The defence ministry in July last year gave the initial nod for the acquisition of the 21 MiG-29s with the latest avionics and electronic warfare suites, and further upgrade of the 59 existing jets to “ensure commonality across the fleet,” at a cost of Rs 7,418 crore.
The cost of 12 new twin-seat Sukhois, along with advanced electronic warfare capabilities as well as additional supplies and spares, in turn, was estimated to be Rs 10,730 crore.
While 42 Sukhois are now being modified to carry the precision-strike BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, the entire fleet will also subsequently be “fully enhanced” with more advanced avionics, radars and weapons to further bolster their combat capabilities.
IAF also plans to get the “acceptance of necessity” by this April-May for its long-term mega “Make in India” project for 114 new fighters for over US$20 billion under the “strategic partnership” model.
The French Rafale fighter will obviously be the frontrunner if India goes ahead with this project, having already bought 36 of them under Rs 59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016. The other six contenders are F/A-18 and F-21 (US), Gripen-E (Sweden), Sukhoi-35 and MiG-35 (Russia) and the Eurofighter Typhoon.