Indian Air Force Chief Outlines Modernization Plans

 - October 12, 2012, 11:40 AM
India’s decision on a multi-role tanker transport is expected imminently, with Airbus’s A330 MRTT believed to have the edge over its Russian competitor. (Photo: Airbus Military)

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is poised to take important decisions on new helicopters and refueling aircraft, said Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne in a briefing to mark the service’s 80th anniversary and the release of a new, unclassified doctrine document.

The IAF’s choice of a new multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) should be announced “in a few weeks,” said Browne. The requirement has been bid twice, with the Airbus A330 MRTT and Ilyushin Il-78 in contention. Life cycle costs, which were not a consideration in the first competition, “will be a key determinant this time, and the probability is that the A330 MRTT will score over its Russian competitor,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

By the end of the year, many decisions will be made, including the start of the induction of the 10th squadron of the Su-30MKIs, said Browne. The IAF plans to raise four more Su-30MKI squadrons bringing the force to 14 squadrons, a total of 270 aircraft by 2014-15. Meanwhile, commercial negotiations are on for the 126 medium multi-role aircraft for which Rafale was declared the lowest bidder. The first squadron will be based at Ambala in the Northern state of Punjab.

India is also close to contracting for 22 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters that were pitted against the Mi-28. Deliveries start three years following the signing, Browne said. He also mentioned favorably the introduction of the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-17 V5. Four squadrons are now in service, with another two to come by December. “We hope to add 50 more,” he said. Sources have told AIN that this deal is expected to be signed on November 1, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India.

India recently ordered the upgrade of 51 Mirage 2000 to 2000-5 standard with the Thales RDY-3 radar, new night vision-compatible all-digital cockpit and improved electronic warfare systems. The aircraft will also be equipped with MBDA’s Mica family of medium range missiles. Having lost two Mirage 2000s in accidents, the service was looking to buy two more and have them upgraded, Browne told AIN.

But not all the news is positive. India’s indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) has been delayed further, with the initial operational clearance now not expected until next year’s third quarter. “The Mark-II version of the LCA is still four to five years away. The IAF has ordered 40 of the LCA Mark-I variants on the condition that Mark-II will have a more powerful engine,” said Browne. A contract has been signed for 99 GE F-414 turbofans.