IAF to vault multi-role fighter aircraft program under Buy Global, Make India; 114 aircraft still in pipeline

IAF to vault multi-role fighter aircraft program under Buy Global, Make India;  114 aircraft still in pipeline


IAF’s mega $20 billion Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) project is again under debate. Against the rapidly dwindling squadrons of the Indian Air Force, the MRFA program which is to receive 114 multi-role fighter aircraft, is a program that the Indian Armed Forces and the Government attaches utmost importance to. Considering the gravity of such serious concern and against hidden threats from northern and western adversaries, the MRFA is being considered on fast track under ‘Buy Global’. Make in India‘, proposes a change from the strategic partnership model. Evaluated on the fact that the number of fighters originally marked for acquisition remains – 114. The evaluation is based on factual analysis with highly placed experts on the matter. Talk of cutting down the number of aircraft is not a viable option in the emerging scenario where the Indian Air Force has projected 500 fighter jets to be able to sustain significant air power in the near future.

Last year, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal VR Choudhary, strongly added the element of ‘Make in India’ to the MRFA project and announced that indigenization should be included in the ambitious procurement. Competition for the MRFA is intense with the world’s leading OEMs, including Lockheed Martin’s F-21, Boeing’s Super Hornet F/A-18E/F, Dassault’s Rafale, Saab’s Gripen JAS-39E/F, Russian MiG -35 is included. and the Su-35, and the European Union led the Eurofighter Typhoon. Along with them, Boeing is also looking at offering its upgraded F-15EX which was approved by the US government for India. The hunt for 114 fighter jets beyond intense competition has seen a difficult and harrowing journey, termed as a never-ending saga of high ambitions on a low trajectory. The discovery is about to lay the ground for an aerospace ecosystem of advanced capabilities within the country, which has seen some success in getting LCA Tejas off the ground over several decades of trials and tribulations. MRFA is based on the idea of ​​expanding such land, assimilating advanced technologies from the world of aerospace and defence, which can be designed and manufactured in India.

The IAF first floated a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender in 2007 to procure 126 new fighter jets from foreign OEMs. It was proposed to continue building on capabilities and keeping the fighter jet’s accepted strength as a light combat aircraft. LCA) Tejas, a planned indigenous replacement for the IAF’s old fleet, needs more time to be able to fill the gap. In 2012, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault emerged as the final contenders for the Rafale contract with the Rafale winning the competition, but the program could not start due to some clauses in the contract guarantee and other disagreements with the selected OEMs. Finally, in 2015, the MMRCA project was cancelled. In dire circumstances for the Indian Air Force to maintain operational capabilities, the government instead decided to acquire 36 Rafale in fly-by condition from the French unit Dassault. This was formalized under a government-to-government deal that aims to make procurement very fast and deployable.

In 2018, the government formulated a new scheme by issuing a request for information (RFI) for the procurement of 114 MRFAs, which has been rechristened as ‘MMRCA 2.0’.

air power and capacity gap

A look at geopolitics and global conflicts clearly indicates that the aerial dimension of war has established unprecedented superiority. Next-generation technological breakthroughs in aerial warfare are already unfolding in vast quantities and sizes of unmanned systems, hypersonic fighters and laser energy weapons. It is almost redefining the concept of modern warfare in air and space. How does the IAF adapt to such a change in the context of emerging threats and capability?

IAF currently has 83 LCA, 70 HTT-40 planned, two Sqns of AMCA Mk-I and five Sqns of AMCA Mk-II. In addition, 400/450 aircraft will be provided for LCH and other developments in the helicopter fleet. In the long term IAF will have LCA variant AMCA and MRFA in its flight line up with 56 C-295 for tactical airlift. Nowhere in the world has such a commitment of 450 aircraft been made. This reflects the IAF’s plan for capacity building.

Last year, in an exclusive conversation with the author, Air Chief Marshal Chowdhury expressed his views on creation and acquisition of such capabilities, saying: “In the long term, the IAF will have 56 C-LCA variants in its flight line with AMCA and MRFA Will be- 295 for tactical airlift. Nowhere in the world has such a commitment of 450 aircraft been made. This reflects the IAF’s plan for capacity building.”

But the dichotomy on bridging the capacity gap in building an advanced aerospace base for the next generation of fighter jets against the rapid acquisition of such airsats amidst the dwindling number of squadrons remains. How do we address factors like joint production and technological developments with OEMs in India? So, is decreasing squadron numbers or technology a priority or balancing timeline?

But the question is largely not about policy enhancement under the Defense Acquisition Process (DAP) 2020 and shifting of the ‘Strategic Partnership (SP)’ model to the ‘Buy Global, Make in India’ category. It’s about preparing the ground for a potential. It is about building the roadmap and leveraging the MRFA project to build systems and subsystems of substantial technological advantage and global standards. India’s aerospace ecosystem is teeming with technology flows in all dimensions for the next generation fighter jets. It is also about taking a good leap forward in our manufacturing technology that we have learned over the years for LCA Tejas. Apart from the number of aircraft, the IAF’s focus is on the need for next generation technology ready for future conflicts. Advances in the spectrum of aerospace are breaking boundaries in areas such as stealth, speed, electronic and sensor suites and network platforms on the Quantum Combat Cloud, coupled with greater firepower with unmanned aerial systems. Apart from the safety dimension, the $20 billion MRFA project makes a compelling case for India in terms of economy of scale when we have the capability to design, develop and produce 5. For 6 generation fighters.

Presently, Tejas Mk1 FOC variant aircraft are being delivered by HAL. Production of the LCA Mk 1A is expected to start by 2023-2024. The LCA Mk-1A will have indigenous technologies like AESA radar, Integrated Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, Long Range Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile, improved maintenance and air-to-air refueling capability with avionics suite.

Another important project, the AMCA program was conducted by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the IAF in August 2020, while the critical design review is under consideration. DRDO) is working towards development of Next Generation Technology Demonstrator, with active support of IAF. Such complex projects require greater fluency and collaboration with global innovators from the world of aerospace and defense manufacturing.

As IAF Chief VR Choudhary pointed to the author again during the conversation last year, commented: “The IAF envisages the AMCA to incorporate state-of-the-art design and improved multi-role capability with the incorporation of 6th generation technologies. is for. The experience in building LCAs will influence the design of AMCAs to suit future operational requirements.

But the most important aspect of the MRFA is the prospects for acquiring and developing the elusive jet engine technology. The depth of the conversation lies in bridging such gaps whether it is under the ‘SP’ model or Buy Global, Make in India. Overall, there is a need to address suitable jet engines for India’s next generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft and an estimated 500 fighters for the Tejas Mk-2. What India lacks is the elusive jet engine capability. While the DRDO project on military gas turbines has achieved some technical readiness level (TRL) in the production of critical propulsion systems for long-range weapon delivery systems as well as unmanned aerial vehicles and weapon platforms, jet engines are a complex task. Is. As G. Satheesh Reddy, Secretary DDR&D and Chairman, explained: “As you are aware, these engines have been rejected by global OEMs for strategic applications.” In this case the international reach will enable India to jointly develop under an open architecture matrix, with AeroEngine having full access and rights.

It is worth noting that China is already upgrading the J-20 and J-31 aircraft and is working on new fighter jets with the sixth generation capabilities in the areas of stealth capability with hypersonic weapons. China is pioneering the laser’s aerial dimension and precision combat capabilities based on AI.

Clarity is key to making substantial progress on important projects like the MRFA. The strategy puzzle blocking the time limit defeats the purpose. The proposed 114 MRFA requires an advanced aerospace industrial base and the IAF to pass through such trails to consolidate its formidable position in aerial warfare.


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