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Selected OEM for multi-role fighter aircraft programme will have to ensure tech transfer: IAF Chief

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari (A file photo)

NEW DELHI (PTI): The winner of the Indian Air Force's mega project to procure 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) will have to ensure the transfer of technology as it would be implemented under the framework of the 'Make-in-India' initiative, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari has said.

He said the procurement of the MRFAs will augment the IAF's fighter strength and enable it to induct the advanced technologies that the force "urgently desires" to execute its operational plans more effectively.

In April 2019, the IAF issued an RFI (Request for Information), or initial tender, to acquire 114 jets at a cost of around US$ 18 billion (one billion is equal to 100 crore). It was billed as one of the world's biggest military procurement programmes in recent years.

The top contenders for the multi-billion dollar deal include Lockheed Martin's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Swedish aerospace giant Saab's Gripen jet.

"While the entire process will be executed under the provisions of the DAP (Defence Acquisition Procedure) 2020, the selected OEM (Original Equipment Maker) will have to comply with our requirements of transfer of technology and Make-in-India that would add to our indigenous fighter aircraft manufacturing capability," the Chief of Air Staff told PTI in an interview.

He said the IAF has already received responses from multiple vendors to its RFI.

"The procurement of the MRFA through the Make-in-India route will augment our fighter strength and enable us to induct advanced technologies that we urgently desire to execute our operational plans more effectively," Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said.

Asked about concerns that the IAF is not going to reach the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons in the next 10-15 years and whether it would impact the force's combat capabilities, he said a "two-pronged" strategy is being adopted towards maintaining its strength that involves induction of new generation platforms and up-gradation of the existing fleet.

"Various approaches are ongoing under the 'Make-in-India' initiative to realise this within the budget forecasts.

"Improvements in technological capability and increase in the numerical strength require persistent efforts and involve long drawn processes with necessary financial support," he said.

The IAF Chief said the force development has to be critically harmonised with the envisaged threats and available financial outlay to factor in the time-bound build-up of requisite human resources and support infrastructure.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said procurement of 114 jets under the MRFA project and acquisition of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas will help the IAF significantly enhance its combat prowess.

He also referred to the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project.

India is also working on an ambitious US$ 5 billion project to develop a fifth-generation medium-weight deep penetration fighter jet to significantly bolster its air power capability.

"The IAF endeavours to build up its operational capabilities through planned inductions of LCA variants, MRFA and AMCA in a phased manner," the Chief of Air Staff said.

"The IAF also perceives the distinct need for the induction of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) has commenced development of the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA)," he added.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari further said the IAF is providing active support to the DRDO in this programme.

The number of squadrons of the IAF is going down gradually because of the phasing out of old aircraft.

The Chief of Air Staff said the IAF aims to enhance its operational capabilities through the induction of modern technology and by ensuring better serviceability and availability of its assets, adding the coming years would demand more rigorous, regular and realistic training in multi-domain warfare.

"Our focus on 'Atmanirbharta' (self-reliance) should promote indigenisation and innovation at all levels leading to higher self-reliance," he said.

"Agility in thought and action through seamlessly integrated command and control structures should provide us with enhanced responsiveness and lethality," he said.

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