The Indian Air Force (IAF) clarified that it plans to get 40 more Sukhoi-30MKIs from Russia as well as faster indigenous production of 140 of these fighters in addition to the 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA). The 140 Sukhoi jets are to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at its Nashik facility at a cost of USD 4.8 billion and was originally planned to be complete by 2017-2018. However, the Cabinet Committee on Security had directed HAL to advance the dates but the new timetable is not known. In addition, the IAF is also on course to acquire 80 more Mi-17 helicopters, 12 VIP helicopters, 10 Cheetah helicopters, six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and six more mid-air refueling aircraft.
Chief Marshal SP Tyagi said that since the 126 MRCAs will take a few years to be operational, the IAF will progressively upgrades its Jaguar, MiG-29, and Mirage-2000 fleets to enhance their combat capabilities as well as operational life. Integrated together with Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) by November, the IAF combat and strike capability will be vastly enhanced rendering the threat from the new 36 F-16s that the U.S. will supply Pakistan a non-event.
The USD 6.5 billion tender for the 126 MRCA is oriented to reduce aircraft diversity and increase operational efficiency. India has made it clear that it will select a vendor only if they agree to manufacturing licenses within India. Unless the U.S. manufacturers change their position and the U.S. government changes its position, Boeing and Lockheed are automatically off the deal. Given the potential for co-operation and the willingness of the U.S. to court India, such changes may be accomplished. The Sukhoi Design Bureau has invited India to co-design, co-develop, and co-produce the fifth generation stealth fighter and India has already "on board" this project with its own requirements.
In the meanwhile, the 40 Sukhoi fighters will inducted on a "fast track" basis within the next three years to fill "inevitable gaps" in the ageing fighter fleet and will add to the 50 that it already has on board. The IAF is also considering procuring second hand Mirage jets from Qatar but the pricing issues need to be worked out. The gaps that Tyagi was referring to are a sharp decline in the number of operational squadrons from 40 to 28 in the next couple of years due to ageing MiG fighters.
In the next few weeks, the IAF will conduct a joint exercise with France and with the UK in July.