13 Jun 2017
IAF to conduct limited trials for F-16/Gripen warplanes
The Indian Air Force will be conducting limited trials of the US-built Lockheed Martin F-16 and Swedish Saab Gripen fighter jets.
The IAF then plans to select the foreign company which will build 120 jets locally under the 'Make in India' program in a deal estimated to be worth $20 billion ((Rs 1.3 lakh crore).
The IAF needs new-aircraft to augment depleting fighter strength.
F-16/Gripen lost to Rafale in IAF's MMRCA contest
IAF sources said both planes underwent extensive trials seven years ago for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) evaluation process.
The French-made Dassault Rafale won the 126 aircraft contract.
The F-16, an aging platform, wasn't selected after the MMRCA trials because there was no potential to further develop the aircraft.
The Gripen lacked the IAF's mandatory advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar requirement.
MMRCA was scrapped, IAF's fighter woes continue
Massive cost escalations prompted the Modi government to scrap the MMRCA deal.
It purchased 36 Rafale jets which would be manufactured in France, leaving the IAF still short of dozens of warplanes.
The winner of the F-16/Gripen contest will add 120 single-engine fighter jets making up for this deficiency and replace the IAF's vintage MiG-21 and MiG-27 warplanes.
F-16/Gripen capabilities have improved since previous evaluations
Lockheed has offered its latest F-16 Block 70 version while the newest Saab Gripen variant comes with an advanced AESA radar.
"To test the new capabilities, there would a limited trial only and we are hoping to select and finalize the foreign partner within the next one year," according to IAF sources.
The IAF is also inducting 123 indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
IAF's fighter jet squadron strength very low
The IAF currently has 35 active fighter squadrons as opposed to a sanctioned strength of 42. Each squadron has between 18 to 20 aircraft. However, as per a recent Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Defence, the IAF's actual strength may be down to 25 squadrons.