India’s Fighter Contract Still Up in the Air
Despite recent hype about the USA selling F-16 and F-18 aircraft to India, there is still much confusion concerning the exact offer and a long way to go before any deal is finalized.
India’s Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia reportedly told the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that the IAF was finding difficulties in managing over 20 different types of aircraft, and would not like to add new makes of aircraft that would complicate the inventory further. In response, the committee cleared the immediate purchase of 12 Mirage 2000-Vs from Qatar’s air force.
This news affects India’s upcoming decision regarding its purchase of 126 multi-role fighters.
While the Mirage 2000-V, MiG-29M/M2, and Saab/BAE JAS-39 Gripen have been shortlisted, The USA has also been asked for information regarding the possible sale of F-16 Block 70 or F-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft, along with technology transfer and co-production agreements. It should be noted that the U.S. offer in this respect is less clear than has been portrayed in the media. The past history of U.S. sanctions over India’s nuclear program is also much on the Indians’ minds, as this excellent overview from The Week demonstrates. Other analysts are far more interested in a potential U.S. offer.
What is clear, is that any offers in this respect from the USA are still in their early stages. It is also unclear just how interested India is, or if this is more of a bargaining chip with existing front runners Dassault and Mikoyan.
While some Indian officers expressed interest in evaluating the F-16’s capabilities against the Indian SU-30MKIs at the “Cope India” exercises in November, the standardization argument appears to bode ill for U.S. aircraft in the competition, and for the JAS-39 Gripen as well.
At present, the front-runners appear to be Dassault Aviation of France offering the Mirage 2000-V and Russia’s MiG-29M/M2. Versions of both aircraft are already in service with the Indian Air Force.
Ahluwalia has also said the IAF was currently modernizing about 125 MiG-21 fighters by upgrading them to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ standards at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Despite its very high accident rate, the MIG-21 will likely remain in service with the Indian AF until 2016.
- DID (June 30/05) – US, India Sign 10-Year Defense Pact. Well, this changes a few things.
- DID (Nov 3/05) – India Investigating F/A-18 Super Hornet AESA Radars, AH-64D Apaches. The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet may have an AESA ace up its sleeve. Or is this just a tease from India early in the dating game? DID said “tease” at first, but then AESA radars turned out to have an unexpected capability…
- DID (Dec 13/05) – US Firms Lobby India re: Offsets on Fighter Deal. New foreign offset requirements causing problems, as DID predicted. Rafale & Eurofighter entering the competition now? Meanwhile, MiG looks like it’s offering the thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 rather than the MiG-29M2.
- DID (Feb 13/06) – India’s Fighter Modernization: Add MiG-29s to the List. Timeline uncertainties re: this competition, trouble with the indigenous LCA Tejas program, and the need to keep numbers up are forcing stopgap upgrades across India’s fighter force.
- DID (Feb 17/06) – India: LCA Tejas by 2010 – But Foreign Help Sought With Engine. The Tejas isn’t part of the MRCA competition, but its status will influence India’s choices.
- DID (March 8/06) – Mirage 2000s Withdrawn As India’s MRCA Fighter Competition Changes. The participants are changing, India’s view of its own needs is changing, and the size and nature of the order may be changing as well.