Filling the fighter gap - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 July 2020

Filling the fighter gap

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th July 20

The defence ministry’s announcement last week that it had cleared the procurement of Rs 38,900 crore worth of weaponry and defence equipment is to be welcomed, especially given the tense confrontation with Chinese troops at several places in Ladakh. More than 80 per cent of the equipment that has been cleared will be manufactured in India, with the participation of several small and medium industries as prime tier vendors — making it truly Indian. It is also true that the MiG 29 upgrade involves radar and missiles, plus range and other improvements — all at relatively low cost. Also it changes the game from being just air superiority fighter to multi role, though it can be argued that their demanding logistics require them to spend more time in the maintenance hangar than most modern fighters.

The problem is it could be several years before this weaponry becomes available to combat units, since only an in-principle clearance for procurement has been accorded so far and India’s notoriously slow procurement process often drags on for well over three years. Given the urgency of the military’s need, the defence ministry should have cleared the acquisitions under the “fast track” category, which requires a contract to be concluded within a year. The frontline soldiers cannot wait longer than that for the firepower they badly need through the induction of the Pinaka rocket launchers, Astra air-to-air missiles and Nirbhay long-range cruise missiles that the ministry has cleared for acquisition.

Buying more Sukhoi-30MKI fighters provides work to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, whose Sukhoi-30MKI manufacturing line would otherwise shut down later this year at the end of its production run. And the cut-rate purchase of MiG-29 fighters, which are lying in storage in Russia since the Russian Air Force does not want them, would allow the Indian Air Force (IAF) to field an additional fighter squadron cheaply. However, these are insufficient reasons for inducting combat aircraft that are neither state-of-the-art, nor indigenously designed and manufactured like the Tejas.

Admittedly, no country’s combat aircraft fleet consists entirely of cutting-edge fighters. Given the budgetary constraints, a balanced air force would field an equal mix of cutting edge, contemporary and legacy aircraft. However, that delicate balance gets disturbed when obsolescent aircraft are replaced in service by less-than-cutting-edge fighters. The IAF should not be tempted into cut-rate shopping to make up the numbers. Instead, it should seriously pursue the global tender it initiated more than two years ago for buying 114 state-of-the-art medium fighters from the global market. True, that would strain the already overloaded defence budget. However, as the current border crisis illustrates, capacities must be created ahead of time, not when a crisis is upon us. The government has done well to boost the indigenous Tejas fighter programme and to nudge the IAF to order 83 Tejas in the advanced Mark 1A configuration. Meanwhile, the indigenous development of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is moving ahead steadily. However, to fill the gap until these indigenous fighters enter service in significant numbers, the IAF must expedite the 114-fighter global tender rather than wasting scarce defence capital funds on bits and bobs that have no place in the fleet of the future.


  1. Why waste time on RFP RFQ and then renegotiating SPECS. WHICH WILL THEN BE RECONTESTED by one of the aggrieved parties

    We are quite well placed to order the Rafale as We have the logistics and the training in place. Price wise no one will be able to match the RAFALES as they will have nil R&D COST ALONG WITH NEGLIGIBLE TRAINING AND LOGISTICS COSTS

    Surely 114 aircraft tender will need to comply with make in india conditionalities.

    LETS DO A GOVT TO GOVT DEAL WITH FRANCE....UNLESS THE US supports us with stealth technology

  2. I recently read an article where the HAL chairman said that, currently they have supplier parts only for FOC-3 and FOC-4 of Tejas and are not sure any of their suppliers can provide any parts due to COVID-19.The attitude of HAL has been very callous. Why weren't supplies procured in advance ?? The 83 MK-1A is yet to be signed! Considering old MIG-29's are being procured in an emergency mode and this contract not concluded shows the confidence of the IAF in the HAL built aircraft.

    1. Don't you remember hal was seven struggling to pay their employees last year. They are find starved.

  3. India needs 5th generation fighters to fill the hole until AMCA takes off.

  4. Sir r u sure AMCA will take to skies on or before 2025-26?


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