Policy switch to make full fighter jets in India

This is the first time that the government will be insisting on manufacturing complete aircraft in India with technology transfer.
Indian Air Force's SU-30 aircraft in lead with two Jjaguar and two Hawk aircrafts fly in a formation over Yelahanka air base during Aero India.
Indian Air Force's SU-30 aircraft in lead with two Jjaguar and two Hawk aircrafts fly in a formation over Yelahanka air base during Aero India. File Photo | Vinod Kumar T, EPS

NEW DELHI: Not content with piecemeal Make in India initiatives in its defence procurement, the Union government has made a policy switch to buy as many as 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) only from a vendor who is ready to set up a manufactuting unit in India for the entire aircraft.

It also wants transfer of technology and full production in India in a joint venture with a local partner.

A new global tender incorporating these conditions is likely to be floated soon. The radical shift in policy is expected to delay the MRFA acquisition further. India has 31 squadrons of fighter jets as against the sanctioned strength of 42.

A large number of parts of fighter aircraft purchased earlier are already being manufactured in India under the offset obligations. This is the first time that the government will be insisting on manufacturing complete aircraft in India with technology transfer.

Approximately valued at $20 billion, the MRCA is said to be one of the world’s biggest defence deals in recent times. Among the aircraft in the race to bag the contract are Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s Super Hornet F/A-18, SAAB’s Gripen, Lockheed Martin’s F-21, Russian MiG-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Sources said French company Dassault, makers of Rafale, which has been the frontrunner to bag the contract, is not keen to transfer technology for production in India. The Indian government has already bought 36 Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force and is likely to go ahead with its decision to purchase 26 Rafale Marine to replace the ageing MiG-29s being used on INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya.

The Union government has been encouraged by its success in getting US company GE Aerospace Defence and Systems to produce fighter jet engines in India in collaboration with the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

As per the deal signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last visit to the US, GE will transfer 80% technology of its F414 jet engines that will power the Mk2 version of India’s indigenously-developed Light Combat Aircraft.

The government has increased the FDI sectoral limit in defence to 74% to make the country a defence manufacturing hub.

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