by Anindya Modak

We all know, that Indian Air Force which is one of the top 5 in the world are facing a serious crisis of air crafts in their fleet. Our air force is still a way lot stronger than many other air forces and capable of defending the skies of India with ease but considering the scenario of a two-front battle we not only need skilled people but also numbers both in men and air crafts. The MiGs are going to be phased out sooner or later and a suitable aircraft to fill up this void was found in the indigenous Tejas. But neither Tejas nor HAL has met up to the expectations of the air force. The program is running late by several years and the numbers are depleting fast. 36 Rafales which would start to arriving by September, 2019 will not do much justice to the fleet in terms of quantity but certainly will enhance the quality. It seems a rejected fighter from the MMRCA competition can be the best solution for the Indian Air Force, yes I am talking about the Gripen (E or NG).Now when I make this statement I want to clearly mention that I am not going to make a single penny out of this article and I am not being sponsored by anyone to say for this said air craft. I am just presenting my point of views which is a result of my long studying of different kinds of air crafts. I am poor at politics and would pledge an apology beforehand if I write anything wrong.

We already know that SAAB was one of the competitors in the MMRCA competition. The Indian Air Force shortlisted the costlier Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale and finally Rafale was selected and then those string of incidents around the induction from deduction of numbers to cost overrun and the story is still growing. I will not focus on those topics but the above facts and the progressive aging of the old fighters has directly affected one organisation, that's the air force. We have only one aircraft which is being steadily inducted though running behind schedule that's the Sukhoi-MKI. We can hope that HAL scales up the production of the Tejas as soon as possible otherwise the squadron strength would further decrease. The SAAB Gripen is one of those aircrafs which can supplement both Tejas and Rafale. It has advanced avionics such as AESA radar and can fly with meteor, mica and handful of missiles which much comparable to the Rafale, on the other hand it is lighter than the former and has also good combat range means it can also strike deep. Most importantly Gripen's makers , the SAAB industries have agreed to make a production facility in India which is in line with the ambitious 'Make In India' program which was not possible for the Rafale. The SAAB had also agreed for technology transfer and help HAL with the Tejas so that both the air craft can fly from a common pool of resource thus reducing maintenance and increasing availability. Gripen has an ability for short take-offs and landing which can be useful in the higher altitudes and mountainous terrain. Many experts were of the view that Gripen will kill the Tejas program but this is certainly not the case. We hope that Tejas finds a steady induction of the better variants in the coming years but Gripen can certainly match with the Rafale at many aspects and will complete the need for medium combat aircrafts. 

Looking into the future the Mirages, Jaguars and MiG-29s are also getting old and by 2035 they would also start to get replaced (if not beforehand). The air force will then have Sukhois, Rafales and Tejas and certainly some other fighter so why not Gripens as the fourth fighter which would complete the heavy, medium and light air craft triad requirements. In these years certainly a progress would be made on stealth technology and we can expect a deal but there is no concrete evidence to support my cause on stealth air crafts in the air force inventory so better let it go. 

Gripen has some issues regarding using American F414 engines and many weapons of american origin which can face sanctions at emergency times due to India's long standing relation with Russia but if this is the case our own Tejas also uses some American components and engines. Moreover India has ordered already attack and cargo helicopters from America so all these would also fall under any sanctions.

I would like my readers to analyse the Gripen and pit its capabilities and shortcomings against every other aircraft. Be it fitting in the budget(a lot economical than the Rafale), ToT, armaments, range, service ceiling, fuel efficiency, avionics, availability of spares Gripen can be a long term solution for the Indian Air Force in terms of both quality and quantity.

Anindya Modak is an defence enthusiast.  Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN