IAF begins process to procure 110 fighter jets worth Rs 973.8 billion

India started looking for new warplanes in 2007 a contest that ended with the government selecting Dassault Aviation for 126 Rafale jets for $11 billion

It is the first mega procurement initiative for fighter jets after the government scrapped the process to acquire 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force around five years ago.

The vendors, Boeing (F-18 Super Hornet) and Lockheed Martin (F-16) of the US, SAAB (Gripen) of Sweden, Dassault Aviation (Rafale) of France, the European Consortium (Typhoon) and Mikoyan (MiG-35) of Russian Federation will have to reply by July 6.

"Lockheed Martin welcomes Indias fighter aircraft Request for Information (RFI) and we look forward to responding to it", said Dr Vivek Lall, vice president, strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin.

The total cost of the procurement could be between $15 billion to $20 billion dollars. Former Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, in a press conference days before retiring, had said that the force needs at least 200 more fighter jets in next decade, a report in IANS said.

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"The proposal is to procure approximately 110 fighter aircraft (about 75% single seat and rest twin-seat aircraft)".

"The procurement should have a maximum of 15% aircraft in flyaway state and the remaining 85% aircraft will have to be made in India" in collaboration with a strategic partner or an Indian production agency, the statement added. The project under the "Make in India" and strategic partnership policy envisages production of the planes here under joint venture between a foreign vendor and an Indian company. IAF intends to use the aircraft as day and night -capable, all-weather, multi-role combat aircraft. "Both options are open at this stage", said a senior officer familiar with the matter on condition of anonymity.

It may be noted that the IAF is fighting a depleting squadron strength. against a sanctioned strength of 42, the IAF has an operational strength of about 31. The RFI, which seeks information from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on the specifications of the aircraft, is for the single as well as twin-engine fighters. Instead, the NDA government had signed a deal of 7.87 billion euros (about Rs 59,000 crore) with the French government to purchase 36 Rafael Double-engine fighter planes in September 2016. The Indian Air Force was keen on a follow-on order of 36 additional Rafales but the government is yet to take a decision on it.

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