IAF May Buy 189 MRCA Jets For $20bn

  

The “mother” could well become the “granny” of all defence
deals in the years ahead. India is likely to go in for another 63
fighters after delivery of the first 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat
aircraft) if the “timelines” for its other fighter development projects
are not met, say top defence officials.

When the MMRCA selection process was initiated by the defence ministry
in mid-2007, the overall project cost was pegged at Rs 42,000 crore, or
$10.4 billion for 126 fighters. But it will zoom well beyond $20
billion, if India eventually decides to opt for 189 jets since inflation
is also being factored in. Even with 126 jets, this is the biggest such
fighter contract going around the world as of now.

This comes even as MoD is all set to open the commercial bids of the two
jets left in the MMRCA fray -French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon
-“within a week or two”. Eurofighter Typhoon is backed by the UK,
Germany, Spain and Italy,

MoD has already rejected “any scope for comeback” by the other four
jets, including the American F/A-18s and F-16s, ejected out of the MMRCA
race in April on technical grounds after gruelling field trials.

“We are looking for only 126 fighters. The first 18 jets will come from
abroad, while the rest 108 will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics
Ltd after transfer of technology (ToT) from end-2016 or early-2017
onwards,” said a senior MoD official on Monday.

“But yes, if the timelines for the Tejas LCA (light combat aircraft) and
the stealth Indo-Russian FGFA (fifth-generation fighter aircraft)
projects are not met, we will go for more MMRCA to retain IAF’s combat
edge,” he added.

Apart from progressively inducting 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from
Russia for around $12 billion, IAF is slated to induct the first lot of
120 indigenous Tejas from end-2013 onwards. India also hopes to begin
inducting 250 to 300 FGFA from 2020 onwards under the joint project with
Russia, which rough calculations show will eventually cost India around
$35 billion in the decades ahead.

But that is in the future. The request for proposal (RFP) for the
ongoing MMRCA competition, issued in August 2007, did have the standard
clause of India reserving the option to go in for 50% more fighters,
over and above the initial 126, in the coming years.

This, however, is the first time that top defence officials have
directly linked the progress in the LCA and FGFA projects to the
possibility of exceeding the MMRCA acquisition beyond the first 126
jets.

“Commercial bids of Eurofighter and Rafale will soon be opened, with the
reports of the Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) and Technical
Offsets Evaluation Committee (TOEC) virtually complete now,” said
another official.

But it will not be “a cut-and-dried” affair to determine the lowest
bidder (L-1). “Calculation of L-1 will take around a month due to the
huge amounts of mathematical and data verification of the lifecycle
costs of operating the jets over a 40-year period, with 6,000 hours of
flying, as well as cost of ToT,” he added.

Final commercial negotiations with the L-1 vendor will then begin before
the contract is ready for signing by December or January. IAF, on its
part, wants deliveries of the 126 fighters to begin from December, 2014,
onwards to stem its fast-eroding combat edge. Plans have already been
firmed up to base the first MMRCA squadron at Ambala, with subsequent
squadrons coming up both in the western and eastern theatres.

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