After inking the $3.5 billion Scorpene submarines deal last week, the Centre is now all set to shop for 126 multi-role combat aircraft for which Boeing of US, Dassault of France, Russian MiG RAC and probably an Italian company have already been shortlisted.
The move assumes significance as highly placed sources say India is trying to get closer to US and France through the aircraft deal since both these countries have offered civil and nuclear technology cooperation to India.
It is learnt IAF had two months ago placed requests for proposals (RFPs) for the $9 billion 126 multi-role combat aircraft. However, IAF officials declined to name the particular manufacturers to whom it has issued RFPs.
But sources close to the development said that Dassault of France and Boeing are among those who have received RFPs.
Senior IAF officials, however, told FE that the force could issue RFPs to other manufacturers, apart from the initial four, if it thought such a measure was necessary.
RFP is the second stage of acquisition in the procurement process. The initial requests for information (RFIs) had been sent to five manufacturers — US’ Lockheed Martin and Boeing (F-16 and F-18), MiG RAC (MiG-29), Dassault Aviation (Mirage 2000-5) and Sweden’s SaaB (JAS-39 ‘Gripen’).
A few weeks ago, a high-level delegation of Lockheed Martin (F-16s) and Boeing (F-15 and F-18) had come to India to make a presentation to the ministry of defence and the IAF.
According to highly placed sources, the F-16s of Lockheed Martin were never really in the race for the deal. The government had already decided to go in for the Hornets last year. They added that last year itself, the US Department of Defence had given clearance for Raytheon’s APG-63(v)2 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which is fitted on Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Boeing officials told FE, “We have offered F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for IAF’s consideration and are also offering the co-production of the Super Hornet in India, subject to US government approval.”
Sources revealed that MoD and IAF were impressed by the capabilities of the presentations made by the Boeing on their fighter aircraft, therefore they have been invited for a second round of discussions during the week. A high-level team from Boeing will be here for another round of presentations.
However, experts are apprehensive about Boeing’s offer. Many argue that the US entity, prone to sanctions regime, cannot be a reliable supplier. A senior DRDO scientist remarked: “If you say you don’t trust the Americans for GE-404 engines, how can you say you trust them for the whole aircraft?”
Former air chief S Krishnaswamy told FE, “There is no doubt that what US has to offer IAF are some of their best machines. But the real concern, apart from the constant fear of sanctions, is the version of the machines being offered.”
Another former air chief AY Tipnis said, “The IAF’s evaluation team will have its hands full doing a comparative analysis. The exercise has become near-impossible with the number of parameters —- performance of airframe, engine, radar, a host of electronic sensors and emitters, displays, ordnance stores (air-to-air and air-to-ground) — to be evaluated having increased manifold.