The delay in issuance of Request for Information (RFI) for the procurement of single engine fighters for the Indian air force has led to speculation that twin engine fighter jets would be including in the procurement program.
Although, in October this year, Chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, had clearly stated that the IAF was currently concentrating on the single-engine aircraft so as to make up the numbers with lower costs, speculation is rife that the yet to be issued RFI might see changes in the engine criteria to include twin engine fighters.
There is a requirement for twin-engine fighters down the road, but engines are "30% of the cost" of a twin, versus 10% of single engine fighters, Dhanoa had said.
India currently has 33 squadrons, much lower than the projected requirement of 44 fighter squadrons.
The defence ministry is not yet convinced with the air force argument for breaking up its requirements into two parts – a new single engine jet line and a different double engine jet programme, the Print news web portal reported quoting unnamed defense ministry sources as saying last Friday.
The defence ministry’s official strategic partnerships procedure does mention fighter jets as a priority project, but does not specify the number of engines as a selection criterion. However, India had earlier this year sought details from countries manufacturing fighter jets about details of single-engine aircraft. It plans to manufacture them in India under the 'Make in India' program.
On Saturday, Russian Sputnik news reported quoting unnamed sources that the Indian defense ministry wants an open fighter jet contest like the earlier medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal wherein the main criteria would be the technical capabilities of the jet not the number of engines paving way for the twin engine fighter jets.
"The government has not started any formal process for the proposed jet deal…not even finalized the request for information. The Indian Air Force always wanted a more capable fighter jet and if the government does away with the number of engine criteria then definitely twin-engine manufacturers will have the upper hand," Amit Cowshish, former financial advisor to the Indian defense ministry was quoted as saying by Sputnik.
The IAF is scheduled to issue the tender under the strategic partnership model of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) for selecting a single-engine fighter over a 100 of which will be built in India by a private sector player with technology transfer by the foreign original equipment manufacturer.
Manufacturers of single-engine aircraft such as Lockheed Martin and Saab have already kick-started their India campaign with tie-ups with local partners and identification of potential vendors.