With its efforts to acquire a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) having fallen through and its squadron strength dipping alarmingly, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is to float a Request for Information (RfI) in two to four weeks to kick-start the process for making single-engined fighters in the country under strategic partnership model and the first batch of new planes are expected to be inducted in another five years, informed sources said.
The IAF expects production of sthe single-engined fighters aircraft to start within a five-years period, by which time the first off-the-shelf aircraft of the chosen manufacturing partner start to arrive. By then, the first of the two squadrons of Rafale combat jets that India has purchased from France will also be at full strength.
Once the RfI is issued, a couple of months will be given to get replies and within a year, a RfP (Request For Proposal) will be issued. It may take another six months to a year to go complete the selection process for the single engined fighter, with global giants like Lockheed Martin and Saab in the race.
While 18 aircraft will be bought off shelf, 96 are to be made in India, the sources said.
"Once the contract is awarded, 18 fighters will be delivered off-the-shelf to make up the first squadron. By that time, assembly line is expected to be ready for making the remaining jets in India," a senior IAF officer said.
On Thursday, addressing the annual press conference ahead of Air Force Day, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, had said that single-engined fighters were being inducted so that the force could make up for the numbers at a lower cost.
"In twin-engined fighters, the cost of engine is 30 per cent of the aircraft. In a single-engined fighter, it is 10 percent of the cost. We are right now concentrating on the single-engined jets to make up for the numbers at a lower cost," Dhanoa said, adding that there is also a requirement for twin-engined fighters.
In June, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and Lockheed Martin had signed an agreement to produce F-16 fighters in India. In September, Saab and Indian infrastructure conglomerate Adani group announced a collaboration in the aerospace and defence sector, eyeing to produce Grippen fighter jets.
Lockheed Martin and Saab are presently the main competitors for the single-engined fighter that the IAF needs.
Under the recently unveiled Strategic Partnership model, Indian industry majors will be identified and would tie up with global original equipment manufacturers to seek technology transfer and manufacturing know-how to set up domestic manufacturing infrastructure and supply chains.
Four sectors have been finalised for the model at present -- fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armoured fighting vehicles and main battle tanks.
Besides, the IAF is also acquiring 40 Tejas light combat aircraft and will be buying 83 more of these indigenous fighters to make up for its depleting strength.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)