The Indian Air Force (IAF) has expressed concern that major aviation-related defense procurements will be delayed following the sudden death of Arun Kumar Bal, Ministry of Defense chief negotiator for air acquisitions. “It will take around three months for his replacement. This is a setback for anything the IAF is acquiring,” Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne told AIN.
One such acquisition is the approximately $20 billion contract for 126 Rafale fighters the service ordered from Dassault Aviation to fill its need for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). A contract signing had been expected by the end of this year, but this “will also be delayed,” said Browne. Furthermore, the joint cooperation agreement between Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Dassault has yet to be signed.
No longer willing to put a timeline on the deal, Browne told AIN that if the deal is not signed soon, the IAF will face a major shortfall in fighters between 2017 and 2022. The IAF has 34 combat aircraft squadrons, against a sanctioned strength of 42. “We have no back-up plan,” he said. “We need to get the deal going. The deal has to work. There’s no other option. If we sign the MMRCA in 2014, we will get the first aircraft [only] in 2017.”
Browne characterized the Fifth-generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project based on the Sukhoi T-50 that India has signed with Russia “a developmental program undergoing lots of changes.” The two parties have yet to sign the R&D agreement, he said.
Also in the offing are plans to acquire six more C-17 transport aircraft, in addition to the 10 already on order. The immediate casualty of the delay is the purchase of six Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports (MRTT). That deal was only a month of clearances away from contract signing.
The IAF is moving toward commonality of equipment, noted Browne, who brushed aside HAL’s plans to build a basic trainer. The IAF has already ordered 75 Pilatus PC-7s. “The IAF is clear that there can be only one trainer. We cannot have these extravagant projects. If we have two types of trainer, it costs extra [for] infrastructure, training, simulators and maintenance. It is all public money. You cannot waste it by having two to three projects,” he said. “What we do need is an intermediate jet trainer [IJT]; a replacement for the Kiran Mk II has to be found soon.” HAL has been unable to deliver its IJT project, which has been delayed by a decade.