The Indian Air Force (IAF) is currently in need of around 200 fighter jets, a number which might rise to 300 in the coming few years as the Soviet fleet is replaced.
India signed a deal acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jets from France but that is not going to help the IAF meet its operational requirements.
Though the IAF has now started getting the much-delayed HAL Tejas in its arsenal, it will take time to fill the void in the quickly depleting number of fighters in the force.
As of now, only two Tejas have been supplied to the IAF. To meet the gap, foreign suppliers are needed.
According to reports, the IAF has hinted that they are willing to go for foreign fighter jets provided the manufacturers make them in India and in partnership with a local manufacturer.
A deal of around 200 fighters could start anywhere at $13-$15 billion making it one of the country’s biggest military aircraft deals.
IAF has previously stated that it cannot fight on two fronts – Pakistan and China – with the current force, which is two-thirds of what they need. The IAF needs 45 squadrons but has only 32. And to add to IAF’s worry, some of the squadrons are composed of ageing Soviet-era jets such as MiG-21 and MiG-27.
The silver lining is that nearly every fighter jet maker is open to the Make in India initiative of the Narendra Modi government.
Swedish aerospace and defence giant Saab was one of the first to state that they will set up a factory in India if the IAF goes for their highly capable Gripen fighter jets.
Following that US giant Lockheed Martin too expressed interest in manufacturing its F-16 line of fighters in India. They have also stated their willingness for making the jet for export purposes from India as well.
The need for a high number of jets has risen especially after the original deal with Rafale did not materialise. The IAF had sought 126 twin-engine Dassault Rafale but after much delay over the price and terms of local manufacturing, ended up with 36 off-the-shelf pieces.
Both Saab and Lockheed Martin have responded positively to India’s interest in purchasing their respective fighters.
“We are very experienced in transfer of technology – our way of working involves extensive cooperation with our partners to establish a complete ecosystem, not just an assembly line,” said Jan Widerstrom, chairman and managing director, Saab India Technologies told Reuters.
At the same time Lockheed Martin has stated that they will shift the entire F-16 production line to India making it the world’s only maker of the advanced fighter jet.
Both Gripen and F-16 are highly advanced fourth generation fighter jets with proven war competence. For India, its Air Force and future aviation industry prospect, it is a win-win game.