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Ministry of Defence to speed up Fighter Jets acquisition

Competition between the Swedish Gripen E and American F-16 is likely to heat up soon with the Ministry of Defence planning to expedite the acquisition of warplanes for the Indian Air Force under a $25-billion deal to buy 200 aircraft.

“The government is now planning to expedite the procurement of fighter jets as the Indian Air Force is facing a precarious situation,” a top official told BusinessLine requesting anonymity.

The decision to expedite the procurement process has been taken after India’s security situation has come under serious threat, especially under present circumstances when it is facing almost a month-long military standoff with China, according to the official.

In October last, , the Indian Air Force had floated a request for information (RFI) to leading aerospace players globally to come up with their offers. Subsequently, the Defence Ministry narrowed down its choice to SAAB’s Gripen E and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70, sources said.

But, the government has not issued a tender placing an order to purchase these planes formally.

However, it seems that the government might finally press the pedal to fasten its acquisition under the ‘Strategic Partnership’ (SP) policy.

But, according to sources, the Defence Ministry is in a “fix” as far as selecting the jets are concerned. This is because both SAAB and Lockheed Martin have sweetened their offers under the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme. “Gripen E may be more attractive price wise. But the selection should be done based on which aircraft gives us more strategic reach,” said Former Air Chief Marshall AY Tipnis.

SAAB has presented a proposal to the government wherein it has given comprehensive plans for ‘Make in India.’ It may be partnering with Adani although that decision rests on which Indian partner gets selected as the SP for the project.

On the other hand, Lockheed Martin has already announced its partnership with the Tatas to shift their entire assembly line here from US.

The Indian Air Force, which is increasingly facing a depleting fleet, currently has 30 squadrons out of the 42 required for guarding the skies and protecting borders. This is the lowest the Air Force has ever faced in the last one decade.

Each squadron consists of 18 aircraft. Besides, 11 squadrons consisting the MiG-21s are looking at retirement, and this will pose additional challenge to the IAF. Even after the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation, the Air Force is short of around 90 fighter planes.

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