India’s air force still relies on Soviet-era MiG-21s and Russian Sukhoi SU-30MKIs

by N C Bipindra

India is planning to revise the specifications for one of the world’s biggest fighter jet orders, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would allow manufacturers such as Boeing Co. and United Aircraft Corp. to pitch their twin-engine combat aircraft.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has asked the Indian Air Force if the search for fighter jets could be expanded to include twin-engine aircraft after Lockheed Martin Corp. and Saab AB were the only ones left in the fray with single-engine products that met the earlier norms, the people said, asking not to be identified as the discussions are private.

The South Asian country started looking for new warplanes in 2007, a contest that ended with the government selecting Dassault Aviation SA to buy 126 Rafale jets for $11 billion. With talks stalling over price and quality guarantees, the government subsequently scrapped the purchase and bought 36 jets separately to speed up the process.

The proposal for the change is being discussed, and there has been no decision yet, the people said. Defense ministry spokeswoman Swaranashree Rao Rajashekar declined to comment.

The nation’s air force and navy require as many as 400 single-and double-engine combat aircraft, the government has said. The air force is seeking at least 100 planes in an order worth about $15 billion, while the order for the 57 naval planes could be worth about $10 billion, according to Jane’s Information Services.

Earlier, the Times of India newspaper, citing sources that it didn’t identify, reported that the government had scrapped a plan to buy single-engine combat planes. In the original contest, Dassault defeated Boeing’s F/A-18, Lockheed’s F-16, United Aircraft Corp.’s MiG-35, SAAB’s Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon.

Acquiring new fighter planes is part of Prime Minister Modi’s bid to modernize the country’s aging military equipment with a $250 billion spending. But it has been bogged down by a defense procurement process which is known for delays, backtracking and a history of corruption, making it a sensitive, slow-going process. In the meantime, India’s air force still relies on Soviet-era MiG-21s and Russian Sukhoi SU-30MKIs.

India today successfully test-fired the nuclear-capable 'Dhanush' ballistic missile with a strike range of 350 kms from a naval ship off Odisha coast, defence officials said.

The surface-to-surface missile, a naval variant of the indigenously-developed 'Prithvi' missile, was test-fired from the ship positioned near Paradip in the Bay of Bengal at around 10.52 am, the officials said.

'Dhanush' missile is capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg and hitting both land and sea-based targets, the sources said, adding that its trial was carried out by the Strategic Force Command (SFC) of the defence forces.

''The missile launch was part of training exercise by the SFC of Indian Navy,'' one official said.

Describing the test launch as ''a complete success'', the officials said all mission objectives were met during the trial.

''The missile launch and its flight performance were monitored from DRDO telemetry and radar facilities in the Odisha coast,'' they said.

The single-stage, liquid-propelled 'Dhanush', has already been inducted into the defence services. It is one of the five missiles developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP).

The last trial was successfully tested on April 9, 2015, the sources added.