India’s new Air Force chief says he will push to buy and build more arms and defense gear at home.
“Indigenization is the destiny for the Indian Air Force,” said Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi, who took his post Jan. 1.
The stance is in line with other moves by the seven-month-old United Progressive Alliance government, and a sharp departure from the previous National Democratic Alliance government, which signed deals to buy arms and defense gear worth more than $4 billion between February 2003 and March 2004.
An Indian Defence Ministry official said the government is putting extra emphasis on homegrown weapon technology. It intends to approve the proposal of Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. to produce the Advanced Jet Trainer. The Air Force wants more than 100 of the trainers, an Air Force official said.
The Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA), a two-year-old Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) proposal, also will likely move forward with the long-delayed delivery of Air Force requirements to the ministry, the Air Force official said. The MCA is slated to replace the Air Force’s British Jaguars and the Mirage 2000-H aircraft.
But Tyagi also said he would continue his predecessor’s acqui-sition plans and other policies.
His remarks came after the government’s decision last September to go ahead with the homegrown mini-Airborne Warning and Control System program by the DRDO.
The government also is moving on with the estimated $9 billion purchase of 126 multirole combat aircraft for the Air Force, which was initiated by the preceding government. A Request for Information was sent in December to Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, Saab of Sweden, and Dassault of France.
But one analyst said the new emphasis on homegrown planes likely would doom the purchase of foreign multirole aircraft. Past deals for Hawk trainers and Phalcon surveillance aircraft suggest that it will take more than five years to seal a multirole deal, during which time DRDO will be pushing its MCA, said Bhim Singh, a retired Indian Air Force wing commander and defense analyst.
Some wonder whether India’s miltary can afford to rely on homegrown projects to arm its Air Force. The service needs to replace half of its 350 planes and is seriously short of spare parts for half of the planes, said Air Force sources.
DRDO’s record of timely production is blemished; the Light Combat Aircraft, for example, is a decade behind schedule. One Air Force official admitted that the track record of homegrown technologies is not very favorable. The 1985 plan to field the Nag anti-tank missile and the Trishul theater missile in the early 1990s was not achieved; the weapons are still in the test stage.
But the Air Force official noted that India built half its Air Force’s planes, including MiG-21s and -27s, under license from Russia.
Indian Defence Ministry sources say the drive to build weapons in India would make licensed production of Russian weapons more attractive.