Indian Air Force To Procure 83 Indigenous Tejas, 12 Su-30MKIs And 59 Mig-29s Fighter PlanesJanuary 21, 2021
India is taking steps to supply its air force with enough war materiel to maintain an adequate balance of force against the People’s Republic of China with which it increasingly competes militarily.
India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) just approved a significant purchase of war equipment consisting of 83 locally-manufactured Tejas Light Combat Aircraft that will be built in-country by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The announcement was made Wednesday January 20th as the committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in attendance.
The latest measure, first announced in July 2020, clears the way for a firm contract valued at (Rs) 48,000 crores that is expected to be signed by March. The contract that will cap a lengthy four-year effort to supply the Air Force with the country’s first indigenous fighter aircraft will procure 73 Tejas Mk-1A along and 10 Mk-1 trainer aircraft together with the necessary support infrastructure. Deliveries are due to take place from 2024 until 2028.
In addition, the deal is to procure 12 new build Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI ‘Flanker’ multirole fighter aircraft that are also to be assembled locally by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under a license agreement obtained in the early 2000’s. To date, the same agreement has allowed HAL to deliver most of the approximately 260 aircraft currently operational with the Indian Air Force. The Sukhoi Su-30 MKI form the backbone of the Indian Air Force and provide the main deterrent against China whose air force also rely on aircraft of similar ‘Flanker’ design family. China operates very large numbers of these aircraft, with up to 400 airframes deployed under various designation including Su-27SK, Su-30MKK, Su-30MKK2, Su-35 all acquired from Russia, and locally built Shenyang J-11A/B clones of the Su-27SKs, and Shenyang built derivatives J-11D, J-15s and J-16s.
Another portion of the deal is making provisions for India to be supplied with up to 59 Mig-29 aircraft whose airframes have previously served with the Russian Air Force but which have very low flight hours. These airframes are to be taken out of storage and reconditioned before receiving avionics, combat, self protection systems upgrades before their re-delivery to the Indian Air Force. The deal clincher in this portion of the contract has been the availability of low price used airframes with very little flight hours. Once ready, these ‘new’ Mig-29 will come re-inforce some 65 similar aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force, and 36 serving in the Indian Navy.
The Tejas programme is finally taking root in the Indian Air Force despite lengthy negotiations against a tender process that took years to set in motion. Currently, the Indian Air Force has taken delivery of 17 Tejas from a first batch order of 40 aircraft.
These latest steps mark concrete steps to strengthen the country’s first line strategic deterrent force along with its military production capabilities in a context of heightened tension with China. Already on January 17th, India’s technological war establishment had announced the service entry of the Astra, the first locally built Beyond-Visual-Range air-to-air missile. The new missile that will equip the Tejas has also been integrated to be fired from the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. With a range of 80-120 km, the new missile supplants the older Russian supplied R-77, a 1980’s design with much shorter range. The ability to confront Chinese Flankers possibly fronted by stealth J-20 brings comfort to India’s planners.
The recent acquisition of the highly capable Dassault Rafale, a war-tested highly advanced aircraft equipped with the powerful Meteor Beyond Visual Range missile will consolidate the newer capabilities of India’s otherwise highly efficient air arm.