BANGALORE:In yet another instance of the growing warmth between India and Russia, Indian Air Force (IAF) would be strengthened with 40 Russian-made Sukhoi-30 fighter jets for about 1.6 billion US dollars.
The announcement came from IAF chief S.P. Tyagi at the Aero India exposition in Bangalore on 8 February.Not too worried about the US decision to sell 36 more F-16s to Pakistan, IAF plans to retain its combat edge by the fast-track acquisition.
“The government has cleared the purchase of 40 more Sukhoi-30. We will sign the financial contract within this financial year,” Tyagi was quoted as saying by PTI news agency. India’s financial year runs from April to March.
The delivery of the first of the three contracted Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems(AWACS) by November this year will, of course, also impart a great punch to IAF’s combat capability.
With the $6.5-billion deal to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft still some years away, IAF is also going in for progressive upgrades of its Jaguar, MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 fleets to enhance their combat capabilities as well as operational life.
IAF is also on course to acquire 80 more Mi-17 helicopters, 12 VIP helicopters, 10 Cheetah helicopters, six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and six more mid-air refuelling aircraft, among several other projects.
“Sometimes, we bother too much about what our neighbour (Pakistan) is doing,” said IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi on 8 February during the ongoing Aero-India show here.
To tackle the depletion in the number of its fighter squadrons, he said his force expected to begin inducting the 40 new Sukhoi-MKIs from Russia within three years of signing the deal.
“The deal will be signed within this financial year. They will come for a little less than $40 million apiece,” said ACM Tyagi. IAF already operates around 50 multi-role Sukhoi-30MKIs, which are based in Pune, Bareilly and Halwara.
Moreover, another 140 of these fighters, which have a cruising speed range of 3,200 km coupled with advanced beyond-visual range combat capabilities, will progressively be built at HAL facilities at Nashik by 2013-2014 at a total cost of $4,809 million. The project completion date was 2017-2018 earlier but it has now been compressed on directions of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
“Yes, there is a requirement of numbers (of fighters) but finally IAF needs capabilities,” said ACM Tyagi. IAF is also keeping open the option to buy some second-hand fighters from the international market if it gets the right deal.
“We, for instance, were negotiating with Qatar to buy 12 second-hand Mirage-2000s but it did not work out (due to the very high prices quoted by Qatar),” said the IAF chief.
India and Russia have already agreed to jointly produce the fifth-generation stealth fighter, a project being led by the Sukhoi Design Bureau.“The IAF is very much on board in this project. We have decided what we require in the fifth-generation fighter,” said ACM Tyagi.
But in the short-term, IAF is banking upon the Sukhoi-30MKIs to jack up its fighter strength, which has touched a low of around 30 squadrons from a high of 40 some years ago due to phasing out of older MiG variants. The number will touch 28 over the next two-three years before it starts to rise once again.
Tyagi said a global tender would be floated for the 126 aircraft but a single vendor was likely to be chosen. The selected vendor would supply about a fourth of the combat jets and would have to collaborate with India’s state-run facilities like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for licensed production of the remaining aircraft, he said.