India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar announced on Tuesday that
the government is finalizing guidelines for a global bid to select a new
Western single-engine fighter jet for the Indian Air Force.
Speaking at a news conference in New Delhi on January 3, the defense
minister said that the guidelines for a strategic partnership model
under the framework of the Defense Procurement Procedure 2016 are “in
the final discussion stage” and could be approved by the end of the
month, according to The Hindu.
The Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is slated to issue global
competitive bids for 200 Western single engine fighter jets to be made
The strategic partnership model aims to facilitate the fast
selection of domestic partners for the co-production of the new aircraft
under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
In October 2016, India already issued a Request for Information (RFI)
to global aircraft manufacturers alerting international suppliers that
there will be a new competition for a medium weight combat aircraft.
In late December, now retired Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha said that
the service needs to add 200 to 250 new aircraft in the medium-weight
fighter jet category to maintain its edge over China and Pakistan in the
event of a conflict (See: “India: Air Force Chief Wants 200-250 New Combat Aircraft”).
The defense minister made clear that the Indian Air Force requires another single-engine fighter jet other than the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA),
a multirole light fighter aircraft which has been under development by
the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL since 1983.
“The second line of single engine (fighter plane) is also required
for which we are looking at the strategic partner route and very soon
once the strategic partner chapter is finalized we should start moving
in that direction,” Parrikar said at the press conference The Economic Timesreports.
“During the current year the decision…should be tentatively over. May
be few of them will come in ready-made status but the rest will be made
The defense minister’s announcement for now rules out double engine
aircraft like the F/A 18 Super Hornet by Boeing and the Rafale by
Dassault Aviation. Indeed, India has already received proposals from
Lockheed Martin to build the F-16 Block 70 and Saab Gripen E fighter
aircraft locally. It is likely that the Indian government will select
one of the two Western-made single engine fighter jets.
The final selection will depend on “who gives the best offer,
transfer of technology and many other things and price. Weightage will
be given to both,” Parrikar said. He also noted that the selection will
occur through normal process and government- to-government contract:
“[The] government-to-government agreement will be a protective umbrella
agreement, while the actual dealing will be with the company.”
Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Dassault Rafale, however, could
still be in the runs to become the mainstay of Indian naval aviation. As
I explained elsewhere:
“Representatives of French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation pitched the
naval version of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine, fourth generation
multirole fighter to the Indian Navy in early 2016. (The United States
has been quietly pushing Lockheed Martin’s F-35c Lightning II and
McDonnell Douglas F/A 18 Hornets).”
Given the Indian Navy’s preference to install a catapult assisted
take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system on its
new carriers will make it unlikely that the new ship will carry lighter
Russian-made MiG-29K Fulcrum fighter jets (See: “Confirmed: India’s Next Aircraft Carrier Will Be Nuclear”).
Meanwhile, India will continue to test the naval version of the Tejas
LCA as a technology demonstrator, although the Indian Navy has already ruled out the aircraft for its new carrier class.
The final government-to-government deal for the new IAF single engine fighter jet is expected to be inked in 2021.