India will likely issue a Request for Information (RFI) next month to global manufacturers of single-engine fighter aircraft to procure over 100 jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
While a small number would be imported from abroad, the bulk is expected to be manufactured in India under the ‘Make-in-India’ program.
IAF Chief of Air Staff B S Dhanoa said during a press conference yesterday that having a single engine jet fleet was a "priority" and the request for information (RFI) for it is likely to be issued "very soon". Other IAF officials speaking to media said that RFI process might kick off as early as the end of October or during November this year.
Dhanoa said the IAF is giving priority to the single engine fighters due to cost considerations. "Right now, we are concentrating on the single engine so as to make up the numbers with lower cost," he said.
The IAF currently has 33 fighter squadrons against the authorized strength of 42. The single-engine planes are required to rapidly ramp up the fighter jet fleet strength at a time when aircraft in its MiG-21 fleet are either retired or in the process of being consigned to the scrap yard.
The fighter jets will be manufactured by a foreign aircraft maker along with an Indian company under the recently launched strategic partnership model which aims to bring in high-end defence technology to India.
While Lockheed Martin and Saab are the only two globally known single-engine fighter jet manufacturers, there are others such as Korean Aerospace Industries which manufactures a variant of the F-16, called the KF-16 locally.
To make the competition fair and to ensure the best deal for the IAF, the Indian MoD may issue the RFI to more than just Lockheed Martin and Saab.
Expecting forward movement on the single-engine aircraft procurement, Saab recently announced a partnership with the Adani Group which is into infrastructure and mining. Similarly, Lockheed Martin has tied up with the Tata Group to manufacture its F-16 in India should it be selected.
Lockheed Martin's offer of moving its F-16 manufacturing facility to India may be in doubt following a large order from Bahrain for the F-16's latest version, the "V" together with issues over transferring critical technology to Indian companies. When Lockheed Martin announced the F-16V a couple of years ago, it came at a time when the Indian government was pushing for the replacement of its MiG-21 fleet with a latest generation single-engine aircraft to be made in India for use by the Indian Air Force (IAF) besides for export
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