Drawing closure to months of wait, the Indian Air Force on April 6, 2018 issued a global Request for Information (RFI) for procuring 100s of fighter aircraft from global aircraft manufacturers. The introduction of the RFI comes even as the Air Force struggles to arrest the depleting capabilities owing to retirement of its aging aircraft.

The issuance of RFI, which is the most primitive step in India’s long drawn procurement program, has now set the ball rolling for the Air Force to constitute a re-run of the dead MMRCA tender. The Air Force has listed that the requirement is for 110 multi-role fighter aircraft that are expected to perform a wide array of missions including aerial superiority, air defence, air to surface operations, reconnaissance, maritime strike operations and Electronic Warfare and Budding Refueling missions.

Through the RFI, the Air Force has stated that 75% of the aircraft – amounting to about 83 aircraft – are to be procured in single-seat configuration, while the remaining 25% – i.e., about 28 aircraft – are to be procured in twin-seat configuration. The Air Force has further demanded that the aircraft to be fully operational day and night –and capable in all-weather conditions.

The RFI, according to sources with MoD, is believed to have been forwarded to at least six global aircraft manufacturers, which includes Saab, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter, Mikoyan and Dassault Aviation. The RFI comes after months of deliberations between the MoD and the Air Force in regards to the unofficial single-engine tender, that had taken life after the Government had in November, 2016 forwarded a letter to several global manufacturers requesting their interest in jointly manufacturing a fighter with India. Even though the MoD had initially backed the Air Force’s hunt for a single-engine, the ministry later backed out fearing a single vendor situation.

The newer RFI has effectively fallen short of making any mentions in regards to the number of power plant that the aircraft should posses, thus leaving the race wide open between both single-engine and twin-engine fighters. This effectively means that all aircraft that had participated in the infamous Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender are re-eligible to participate in the multi-billion dollar tender.

A Jaguar DARIN - III Aircraft; Courtesy - HAL.
A Jaguar DARIN – III Aircraft; Courtesy – HAL.

For the tender, which is being estimated at close to US $ 15 Billion, US based Boeing Defense and Lockheed Martin are expected to offer their proven platforms F-18 Super Hornets and the venerable F-16. While Swedish based Saab has already confirmed its participation with Gripen – E fighter, Dassault Aviation is expected to pitch-in its Rafale fighter for the tender. Closing the offer bag will be the Eurofighter Typhoon and Mikoyan’s MiG-35 multi-role fighters. Except for the Rafale and the Typhoon all of these fighters had failed to meet the demanding requirements of the Air Force, during the MMRCA tender.

More than one of these manufacturers has now admitted that their platform has now received substantial upgradations since the MMRCA days. For instance, the Saab claims that the Gripen – E is almost an altogether new fighter when compared to the older Gripen – NG that was on offer to India during the MMRCA fiasco. The Air Force has on several occasions admitted that full-blown evaluation trials would be conducted before committing itself to any of the aircraft.

The new tender is being processed under the SP Model of DPP-16, thus mandating both a buy and make component. The RFI reveals that the Air force is planning to acquire 15% of the aircraft – close to 17 aircraft – in flyaway condition; the remaining 85% of the aircraft – i.e 93 – are to be locally manufactured in India.

In anticipation of the tender, while Saab AB has partnered Adani, Lockheed Martin has decided to part with Tata Advanced Systems Limited. French aviation solution provider Dassault has been working with Reliance as part of the Government-to-Goevrnemnt Rafale deal. Boeing has on several occasions batted for the inclusion of the PSUs such as HAL for the tender.

The RFI document has also noted that the delivery of the aircraft being procured in flyaway conditions is to commence within 36 months from the signing of contract. It also reveals that the delivery of the fighters to be built in India has to commence within 5 years of signing the contract and the last of the aircraft are to be delivered within 12 years.