It is already known as the world’s biggest defence import deal in a long time. Now, it transpires, it is even bigger than that. The Indian Air Force is in the market to buy 126 Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from one of six foreign vendors bidding for the contract.
Over time, however, the IAF plans to buy 260 of them, Deccan Chronicle has learnt. That means, what has been talked about as a $10-12 billion deal will eventually fetch the winner of the contract close to $25 billion.
While the IAF floated a request for proposal (RFP) for only 126 fighters, sources privy to the armed forces’ Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan said that that document puts the number of medium fighter jets the IAF needs at is 260. Ministry of defence officials, however, refused to confirm that there was any plan beyond the current RFP.
America’s Lockheed Martin (F-16) and Boeing (F/A-18), the 4-nation Eurofighter consortium (Typhoon), France’s Dassault (Rafale), Sweden's SAAB (Gripen) and Russia’s Mikoyan-Gureyvich (MiG-35) are locked in a high-intensity public relations as well as behind-the-scenes war to win the contract.
Air Chief P.V. Naik had on Thursday said that the Contract Negotiations Committee would achieve key milestones towards evaluating the packages offered by the various vendors in a week or two and that the contract would be ready for signing by September, except if "dissatisfied vendors put a spoke in the wheel".
That, sources said, looked almost inevitable given the size of the contract and what it could do to the fortunes of the winner. It could potentially keep alive assembly lines for some fighters from the 1970s/1980s vintage for another 30 years, ensuring that some 25,000 to 30,000 people would find employment in what are currently stricken economies in the US and Europe.
The sources also said that the eventual number of the frontline air superiority Sukhoi-30 MKIs from Russia in the IAF's fleet would also go up to 280.
The IAF would need these higher numbers of combat jets of different classes considering that it has to plan for threats coming from two fronts.