Air Force moving to higher trajectory?

The Indian Air Force is set for rejuvenation with the deal for new fighters close to its logical conclusion.



When the Ministry of Defence or its Military Wings display a sense of purpose by robust decision-making, it comes as sweet music to those who are avid watchers and deeply concerned at the declining status of the defence preparedness of the country. In air power alone vis-a-vis Pakistan, as against a parity ratio of 3:1 in the 1980s, now it is reckoned barely above 2:1 In the last several years, Pakistan has received, in addition to the jets from the US , JF-17 and Y8 Electronic warfare platforms from China , Swedish SAAB2000 Jets with Erieye radars.

China has become, in the recent years a genuine aerospace power and by 2020 it is set to have an all fourth generation fleet. On the other hand, India has not been able to replace the obsolescent MiG 21s which are nothing more than interceptors with anything which can be called decently modern. Poor production figures from HAL of Sukhoi-30s and inordinate delay in the development of Tejas by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) — the earliest expected year of induction of the first sqaudron strength being 2016 - have further exasperated the situation.The MOD being unable to exorcise the ghost of Bofors looked as if it was run on the principle on “No Decision - No Corruption”.

Objective selection

However now, it is heartening to see not only decision is being made, but also that the selection among the contenders for the introduction of MMRCA (Medium-Multi Role Combat Aircraft ) is based on an evaluation after putting the competing air planes to rafts of tests on as many as 600 technical parameters.

To make the process transparent, the results were made known to the losers providing them with a technical appraisal as to why their offers were rejected. This gives rise to the hope that objectivity and technical considerations based on IAF's needs are gaining supremacy over the diplomatic palaver on old style loyalties of the Soviet era or emerging strategic ties with the US. One of the reasons is, of course, the financial prowess of India with robust growth of economy. The proposal now is to buy 126 fighters (later it may increase to 200) which may cost $15.75 billion if Typhoon is chosen or $11 billion if Rafale is preferred.

In the field of choice were the formidable Boeing's F/A 18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin's F-16N Super Viper. Russian MiG 35, Swedish Gripen NG, European Typhoon and the French Rafale. It appears the test pilots of the IAF found the Typhoon's man-machine interface presenting data streams from dozens of sensors on a single screen was the best. Rafale demonstrated outstanding instantaneous turn capabilities. By the way, Rafale has greatly impressed the experts by its performance in the recent Libyan sorties. And now the choice is between the Typhoon and Rafale depending on price bids. According to the tender, 18 fighters are to be delivered in fly away condition in three years and the balance to be built in India with transfer of technology.

Should this be logically concluded by September 2011, as publicly promised by the Air Chief at the Aero India 2011, India should be applauded for asserting its independence in decision-making and for basing such a decision purely on the recommendations of our Air Force pilots. It is hoped that neither the minutiae of conditions set annually in the so called Defence Procurement Policy nor the perennial detractors who see corruption in every government purchase do not come in the way of this significant stride in rejuvenating our Air Force.

(The author is a former Member, Ordnance Factories Board)

Published on May 11, 2011

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