Highlights

  • Major defence manufacturers in race for India's ₹1 lakh crore jet deal
  • Indian Air Force to buy 114 jets 7 years after Rafale deal with France
  • Pros and cons of F-21, Su-35, Gripen, and Typhoon compared

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Participating in the race are USA's Lockheed Martin with their F-21, France's Dassault with the Rafale, Sweden's Saab with the Gripen, Russia's Sukhoi and Mikoyan with Su-35 and MiG-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Over 100 fighter jets. ₹1 lakh crore at stake. Major defence manufacturers across the world are keenly watching how India's mega tender to buy combat aircraft progresses.

Participating in the race are USA's Lockheed Martin with their F-21, France's Dassault with the Rafale, Sweden's Saab with the Gripen, Russia's Sukhoi and Mikoyan with Su-35 and MiG-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

This comes seven years after India bought 36 Rafale jets in a government-to-government deal. With the Rafales already in service with the Indian Air Force, they are believed to be a frontrunner in the tender.

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Here's a comparison of the pros and cons of the other fighter aircraft in the reckoning.

First the Lockheed Martin F-21. It's possible that America may make an attractive offer as it tries to make India less dependent on Russian weapons. However, the F-21 is just an upgraded version of the F-16 as per some experts. A factor working in the F-21's favour is the fact that the company has already signed a deal with Tata to manufacture the plane's wings in India. However, the jet might not impress the Indian Air Force as one of its MiG-21s shot down a Pakistani F-16 in 2019.

Next is the Sukhoi Su-35. Russia might offer discounts to India as it struggles with Western sanctions over the Ukraine war. However, the Su-35 is an air superiority fighter, and not a multirole aircraft as India wants. Multirole jets are less powerful but can also do ground attacks. However, technology transfer as part of the deal might help upgrade India's existing Su-30 fleet.

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Let's take a look at the Eurofighter Typhoon now. It is a proven platform with over half-a-dozen European and Gulf countries using the jet. However, buying this would mean that India has to manage separate maintenance infrastructure for the Rafales and the Typhoons.

Then there's the Saab Gripen. A major USP of the Gripen is that it contains electronic warfare techology which makes it capable of functioning without an accompanying EW aircraft. However, many of its features are similar to the made-in-India LCA Tejas jet. This might hurt the Swedish plane's case.

This deal is very important for the Indian Air Force to maintain its strength amid threats from Pakistan and China. The IAF currently has 30 squadrons, which will go down further as older aircraft are phased out of service. The sanctioned squadron strength is 42. Each squadron has around 16-18 aircraft.

The ongoing process is to buy 114 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. Eighteen of the planes will be imported, while 96 will be made in India. For domestic manufacturing, Indian companies will partner up with foreign firms. For the first time ever, payment of around 70% of the cost will be done in Indian currency, as per reports.

As India faces increasing challenges at its borders, the country will have to get rid of its dependence on foreign weapons. To do this, India will have to take advantage of deals like the current one to make sure it gets access to technology and knowledge to be able to make its own advanced fighter jets in the future.

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