India's front-line Sukhoi Su-30MKI air superiority fighter jet

by Ajay Banerjee

New Delhi: In startling revelations on delays in manufacturing of fighter jets, several projects have been running years behind schedule even as the Indian Air Force continues to struggle with an ageing fleet.

The Ministry of Defence has drawn up a checklist and found that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a company under it, has not been delivering on time. The deadlines for producing Sukhoi 30 MKI and light combat aircraft Tejas, besides others projects for transport planes and helicopters, have not been met, said sources.

The IAF has 31 squadrons (16-18 planes in each) of fighter jets, including 100-110 MiG-21 and MiG-27 planes that should have been retired a decade ago. The force needs 42 squadrons to tackle a simultaneous threat from Pakistan and China.

The HAL was to produce 222 Sukhoi jets under licence from Russia and the final delivery was to be given by 2017. As on date, 25 of the jets are yet to be delivered and the Air Force may get these only by 2020, making it a three-year delay, says a review that has been brought to the notice of all top MoD officials over the past four weeks.

The biggest delay is in making Tejas. Twenty of these jets—IOC (initial operational clearance) version—should have been delivered by May 2017, but the IAF only got 10.

The situation on the helicopter front is no better. The delivery of 38 advanced light helicopter (ALH) Mark-III version and 16 copters of ALH Mk-IV version, contracted in 2007, were completed only last year, four years behind the planned full delivery schedule of 2013.

The upgrade of fighter jets is another sorry state of affairs. Forty-seven Mirage 2000 jets were to be upgraded at a cost of Rs 2,020 crore (the contract was signed in 2011). Only six aircraft have been upgraded to date against the target of 21.

The Rs 3,113-crore project to upgrade the 61-plane Jaguar fleet to Darin-III standards has been delayed by six years; it’s likely to be completed by 2023-24. There are similar delays in Dornier transport planes and intermediate jet and HTT-40 basic trainers.