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Procurement of 114 fighter aircraft would be under 'Make in India' initiative: IAF Chief

Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhary speaks during a press conference, ahead of the 89th Air Force Day on Oct. 8, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

NEW DELHI (PTI): Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari on Tuesday said the Indian Air Force (IAF) is taking forward the proposed procurement of 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) and that it would be carried out under the Make in India initiative.

In April 2019, the IAF issued an RFI (Request for Information), or initial tender, to acquire 114 jets at a cost of around US$ 18 billion. It was billed as one of the world's biggest military procurement programmes in recent years.

Addressing a press conference ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8, the IAF Chief said the response to the RFI has been received from several aerospace firms and that the acquisition process is taken forward to the next phase.

"The project would be under the Make In India initiative...We are moving the case further," he said, replying to a question on the mega procurement.

The top contenders for the deal include Lockheed Martin's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG-35 and Saab's Gripen.

When asked whether the IAF would go for an additional 36 Rafale aircraft to deal with immediate requirements, the Chief of Air Staff suggested that the fighter jet could be one of the contenders for the MRFA project.

Last year, the then IAF Chief RKS Bhadauria did not rule out procurement of more Rafale jets, and said the induction of the French-made multi-role aircraft has given the Indian Air Force an operational edge to strike "deep and hard".

There has been a view among some officials in the military establishment that the IAF should at least have four squadrons of Rafale jets considering its operational aspects. There are 18 aircraft in a squadron.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said procurement of 114 jets under the MRFA project and acquisition of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas will help the IAF significantly in the face of a gradual drop in the number of fighter squadrons due to phasing out of the fleets of Jaguar, Mirage and the MiG-29.

He also said that the IAF is fully committed to the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) aircraft project.

India is also working on an ambitious US$ 5 billion project to develop a fifth-generation medium weight deep penetration fighter jet to significantly bolster its air power capability.

The IAF chief said the force is looking at technologies for the aircraft that can integrate fifth and sixth generation technologies, adding the plan is to induct the AMCA by the early years of the next decade.

He said the IAF will not be able to reach the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons in the next 10-15 years notwithstanding all the planned acquisitions.

The Air Chief Marshal said the IAF would have 35 squadrons by the next decade with phasing out of old aircraft and induction of new ones.

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