⦁ The delayed process for the procurement of 114 multi-role fighter jets (MRFA) is set to take off soon and along with three different indigenous fighter development programmes, it will result in a mega 500-fighter aircraft acquisition process for the armed forces.
⦁ This will arrest the dwindling fighter strength of the Indian Air Force and enable it to reach the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons.
⦁ “We are hopeful the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for MRFA will be issued in three or four months,” Air Marshal Narmdeshwar Tiwari, Deputy Chief of the Air Force, told The Hindu at Aero India.
⦁ It is a “budgetary decision” and also about how fast the aircraft are available, he said. The AoN will begin the formal procurement process following which the IAF will issue the Request For Proposal.
⦁ On the delay in the process, he said they were evaluating how much of “Make in India” could happen, as also localisation and capability to upgrade the aircraft locally rather than depend on the foreign manufacturer.
Dwindling strength
⦁ The IAF is currently down to 31 fighter squadrons as against the sanctioned strength of 42, which is set to dwindle further as the remaining three MiG-21 squadrons are phased out by 2025.
⦁ By the end of the decade, phasing out of other aircraft would also begin. On this, Air Marshal Tiwari said reaching 42 squadrons would take time and the immediate effort was to arrest the drawdown in strength.
⦁ The 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-Mk1A that would begin coming in from next year followed by the LCA-Mk2 and fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) in the near future, along with the MRFA, would arrest this, he added.
⦁ There is also a twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF) on the drawing board for the Navy’s aircraft carriers. Girish S. Deodhare, Director-General of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said they were looking at six squadrons of the LCA-Mk2 (108 aircraft), seven squadrons of the AMCA (126 aircraft) and up to 100 TEDBF.
⦁ Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) officials said that they expected an additional order for up to 50 LCA-Mk1A. In addition, a decision in 26 multi-role aircraft for the Navy was expected shortly, between Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and the Dassault Aviation Rafale.
⦁ Also, the final deal to procure 12 additional SU-30MKIs to replace the ones lost in accidents and 21 MIG-29s from Russia had been stuck, which both the IAF and Russian officials said has only been delayed but was on track.
Developing AMCA
⦁ On the AMCA, which is awaiting government sanction, Air Marshal Tiwari said based on global trends it would take 10-12 years for its development and around three to five years after that to begin production.
⦁ The HAL had said that they were on track to deliver the first LCA-Mk1A in February 2024. As reported by The Hindu, ADA officials had said the LCA-Mk2, which would be much more capable than the LCA-MK1A, was expected to be ready for production by 2027.
⦁ On the sidelines of Aero India, Navy chief Adm. R. Hari Kumar said they may get up to 45 TEDBFs by 2040. Dr. Deodhare said the TEDBF is expected to take first flight by 2026 and to be ready for production by 2031.


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