Buoyed by the success of the Tata-Airbus partnership to manufacture transport aircraft in India, the air force is keen that the upcoming procurement of new fighter jets follows a similar model, enabling quick delivery of combat aircraft that are required urgently to retain a combat edge in the region.
The estimated $20 billion procurement for 114 multi role fighter aircraft was initially being processed under the Strategic Partnership model, in which an Indian company ties up with a foreign supplier to manufacture major platforms in India. This model however had not met with success yet, with two projects initiated by the navy failing to move forward. On the other hand, the ‘Buy Global, Make in India’ has proved itself to be successful with the signing of a deal to manufacture C 295 transport aircraft by a Tata-Airbus combine. This model is less complicated and involves a simpler shortlisting process, leaving more flexibility with the Indian partner to choose a technology collaborator. The air force evaluated at least four different procurement options on moving ahead with its MRFA requirement, finally concluding that Buy Global, Make in India would be the ideal model to ensure that the project proceeds smoothly and on time.
The Strategic Partnership model has proven to have several complications, with the first ever project under it to procure Naval Utility Helicopters at the verge of collapse. The deal has been stuck for over two years now and unlikely to move ahead after state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was initially debarred from entering the contest.
The defence ministry has now placed naval utility helicopters under an import ban list and a naval version of HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter is now seen as the lead contender for the contract. Similarly, the plan to acquire conventional submarines under Project 75I has also hit rough seas, with foreign technology providers expressing their inability to meet what they describe as unreasonable “joint and severe liabilities” for a product that will be manufactured by the Indian partner. While orders have been placed for 83 of the LCA Mk 1A aircraft from HAL, India faces an acute shortage of fighter jets as several legacy Russian platforms have retired or are on the verge of being phased out. The entire MiG 21 fleet is on its last legs and earlier plans to procure 123 fighter jets was shelved to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets.