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Is India Buying 200 F-16 Fighter Jets?

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Is India Buying 200 F-16 Fighter Jets?

Or will the Indian Air Force opt for Sweden’s Gripen in a new competition to build a single-engine fighter jet?

Is India Buying 200 F-16 Fighter Jets?
Credit: Lockheed Martin

India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar announced on Tuesday that the government is finalizing guidelines for a global bid to select a new Western single-engine fighter jet for the Indian Air Force.

Speaking at a news conference in New Delhi on January 3, the defense minister said that the guidelines for a strategic partnership model under the framework of the Defense Procurement Procedure 2016 are “in the final discussion stage” and could be approved by the end of the month, according to The Hindu.

The Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is slated to issue global competitive bids for 200 Western single engine fighter jets to be made in India. The strategic partnership model aims to facilitate the fast selection of domestic partners for the co-production of the new aircraft under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

In October 2016, India already issued a Request for Information (RFI) to global aircraft manufacturers alerting international suppliers that there will be a new competition for a medium weight combat aircraft.

In late December, now retired Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha said that the service needs to add 200 to 250 new aircraft in the medium-weight fighter jet category to maintain its edge over China and Pakistan in the event of a conflict (See: “India: Air Force Chief Wants 200-250 New Combat Aircraft”).

The defense minister made clear that the Indian Air Force requires another single-engine fighter jet other than the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), a multirole light fighter aircraft which has been under development by the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL since 1983.

“The second line of single engine (fighter plane) is also required for which we are looking at the strategic partner route and very soon once the strategic partner chapter is finalized we should start moving in that direction,” Parrikar said at the press conference The Economic Times reports. “During the current year the decision…should be tentatively over. May be few of them will come in ready-made status but the rest will be made in India.”

The defense minister’s announcement for now rules out double engine aircraft like the F/A 18 Super Hornet by Boeing and the Rafale by Dassault Aviation. Indeed, India has already received proposals from Lockheed Martin to build the F-16 Block 70 and Saab Gripen E fighter aircraft locally. It is likely that the Indian government will select one of the two Western-made single engine fighter jets.

The final selection will depend on “who gives the best offer, transfer of technology and many other things and price. Weightage will be given to both,” Parrikar said. He also noted that the selection will occur through normal process and government- to-government contract: “[The] government-to-government agreement will be a protective umbrella agreement, while the actual dealing will be with the company.”

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Dassault Rafale, however, could still be in the runs to become the mainstay of Indian naval aviation. As I explained elsewhere: “Representatives of French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation pitched the naval version of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine, fourth generation multirole fighter to the Indian Navy in early 2016. (The United States has been quietly pushing Lockheed Martin’s F-35c Lightning II and McDonnell Douglas F/A 18 Hornets).”

Given the Indian Navy’s preference to install a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system on its new carriers will make it unlikely that the new ship will carry lighter Russian-made MiG-29K Fulcrum fighter jets (See: “Confirmed: India’s Next Aircraft Carrier Will Be Nuclear”). Meanwhile, India will continue to test the naval version of the Tejas LCA as a technology demonstrator, although the Indian Navy has already ruled out the aircraft for its new carrier class.

The final government-to-government deal for the new IAF single engine fighter jet is expected to be inked in 2021.