Bangalore: The Indian Air Force (IAF) will commence trials of six competing medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) in contention for a massive $11 billion, 126-aircraft contract sometime in April-May. This was revealed by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major on Saturday.
"The technical evaluation of the MMRCA is almost complete. Hopefully, field trials should commence by April-May this year," the ACM said in his address at the annual Air Chief Marshal LM Katre Memorial Lecture here.
This begins the next phase of an extraordinarily long saga in which the IAF intends to purchase sufficient numbers of top-of-the-line aircraft which can replace an ageing fleet of Soviet era MiG-21 aircraft.
Six global aircraft majors, including MiG, Dassault, Eurofighter, SAAB Gripen, Boeing and Lockheed Martin submitted their bids in April 2008. The aircraft, in contention for the order, are the Russian MiG-35, Dassault's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Swedish Gripen JAS-39, Boeing's F/A-18E/F Hornet and Lockheed Martin's F-16.
Under current industrial offset stipulations the winner will have to source, or re-invest, at least 50 per cent of the contract value through Indian industry or in India.
A request for proposal (RFP) for the 126 combat jets was floated in August 2007 and all those invited responded with their proposals by April 2008. Since then authorities have been studying the copious amount of documents submitted, which in the case of some bidders runs into as many as 10,000 pages. Even as all this impressive clerical activity is being carried out over the years, the fleet strength of the Indian Air Force has dwindled to historic lows.
ACM FH Major said the current fighter fleet was also being enhanced with an upgrade programme. "The Jaguars, MiG-27s and MiG 21-BIS have been upgraded with latest avionics and weapons systems. Similarly, the MiG-29 upgrade is underway and the Mirage 2000 upgrade will commence soon. The induction of the Sukhoi fighter (Su-30MKI) has been accelerated with the indigenous version from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) facility at Nashik."
The air chief also hoped the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme would gain momentum after initial operational clearance and induction of the aircraft into squadron service by 2010-11.
In the case of the IAF's helicopter fleet, a comprehensive modernisation programme was underway, with the Chetak and Cheetah choppers being replaced with 125 light utility choppers being acquired through a global tender. "The contract for 80 Mi-17 helicopters with advanced glass cockpits has already been signed. They will be inducted in phases from 2010 to 2013," the ACM said.
"We are processing a proposal to procure 22 attack choppers, which will be best in its class. We have signed a contract with HAL for 38 advanced light helicopter (ALH), including 16 armed versions with new Shakti engines and glass cockpits," ACM FH Major said.