Current strength of our Air force is 34 squadrons against the authorised strength of 42 squadrons. Initially Indian government signed to buy 126 Rafale Fighter jets from French Company Dassault Aviation.Out of 126, 18 jets were to be purchased in ‘ready to fly’ condition and rest 108 were to be manufactured in India, but after general election in 2014 when the NDA government came to power the entire deal was scrapped and fresh deal was signed to buy 36 in ‘ready to fly condition’
According to the report of Institute of Defence Studies and analysis which was made public in November 2017, out of 34 squadrons 11 squadrons have Sukhoi – 30 MKI. The MIGs will get retire by 2020, which means that almost 14 squadron will retire by 2020. We will get three new squadrons of Sukhoi – 30 MKI. So by the year 2020 Indian Air Force (IAF) will be left with only 23 squadrons which is far less than the authorised strength. IAF will be getting two squadrons (36 Jets) of Rafale. Indigenous built Tejas is not that efficient to rely upon. Taking all this into consideration we need around 400 fighter jets to attain the full authorised strength.
To plug in the gap, The Indian Government prepares to issue global tender of worth $10 Million for single engine fighter jets. Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 and Sweden’s Gripen E are two leading competitors to get the tender.
F-16 block 70 is the most advance variant of F-16 series. United States of America has wrapped up the production line in Fort Worth, Texas, to give way to F-35 Lightning II, a single-engine all-weather stealth multi-role fighter. The F-16s, will now be produced from Greenville, South Carolina. USA is ready to transfer the production line to India if Lockheed Martin gets the deal. Around 27 countries including Pakistan is using F-16 fighter jets, so India will become an exporter of this fighter jet which will put India into the centre-stage of defence production industry. Lockheed Martin is the largest Military production organisation, where as Gripen E is comparatively new in the field. But SAAB’s Gripen E is the most advance fighter jets in the modern times. It has also the lowest flight cost of $4,700 per hour as compared to F-16 block 70, which will costs around $7,700 per hour.
SAAB has also agreed for 100% technology transfer, but SAAB owns only 30% of the technology. It will be a big deal if SAAB appeases other technology developers to share the technology.
India will get single supply chain in case of F-16 block 70 which is not in the case of Gripen E. this will be of great help in wartime situation. Secondly, easy availability of Spare parts of F-16.
If we look at the other side Gripen E is the most sensors packed fighter jet. SAAB has also offered to develop indigenous LCA Tejas and also offers Naval version of Gripen.
Our Government needs to close this deal quickly, so that our Air force should not fell short of fighter jets in the near future.