India on Friday kick started the process to acquire a fleet of around 110 fighter jets which could be one of the world's biggest military procurement in recent years.
The new process to acquire jets effectively replaces the still-born Medium Multi-role Combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal which the Air Force ultimately scrapped when the government entered into a direct deal with France to acquire 36 Rafale jets. Instead, the NDA government had signed a deal of 7.87 billion euros (about Rs 59,000 crore) with the French government to purchase 36 Rafael Double-engine fighter planes in September 2016.
"The proposal is to procure approximately 110 fighter aircraft (about 75% single seat and rest twin-seat aircraft)". The fighter jets will be jointly produced by a foreign maker in collaboration with Indian company under "Make in India" campaign. Manufacturers such as SAAB of Sweden, Lockheed Martin and Boeing of the United States, Dassault of France, MiG of Russian Federation and the European consortium Eurofighter are expected to compete.
Meanwhile, the new development has come as a rude awakening to American firm Lockheed Martin and Swedish company Saab, which were keenly anticipating a tender specifically for single-engine fighter jets making the F-16 and Gripen the front-runners in the deal estimated to be worth at least $10 billion.
The IAF has been pressing for expediting the process to acquire the aircraft citing declining strength of its fighter squadron as some of the ageing jets are being phased out.
It may be noted that the IAF is fighting a depleting squadron strength. against a sanctioned strength of 42, the IAF has an operational strength of about 31. However, the deal could not be finalised by the UPA regime.
In September past year, Swedish defence giant Saab and Indian conglomerate Adani group had announced a collaboration, mainly eyeing the contract for the fighter jet deal. USA aerospace major Lockheed Martin has joined hands with India's Tata Advanced Systems to build the planes in India.