Currently the IAF is using IL-76 and IL-78 and their maintenance line is already in place. Selecting Airbus MRTT will require one more maintenance line but this will remove dependency on Russia and send a signal to Moscow that arm-twisting will not be tolerated any more.
The IAF is also considering Boeing C-17 Globemaster III as its new heavylift aircraft. C-17 is one of the latest and most modern cargo aircraft that has a capability of taking-off and landing on short runways with 70 tons, whereas IL-76 has a capacity of 45 tons only. Moreover, IL-76 is a thirty year old platform and can be upgraded with more powerful engines, better equipments and avionics, but the old platform has its own limitations. Sources said, “The IAF has selected C-17 as the new heavylift aircraft and is all set to place an initial order of 10 aircraft through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, and may later go in for a follow-on order. The defence ministry is considering the proposal and the first aircraft will be delivered in three years after signing of the contract.”
In August this year, India will start the flight evaluation trials for the 197 Light Utility Helicopters LUH. Five competitors for the $3 billion contract are Russian Kazan and Mil, American Sikorsky, Italian Finnmeccanica and European helicopter manufacturers Eurocopter. Last year, Request For Proposal (RFP) was sent to six companies. Five out of the six companies responded. Bell Helicopters of America backed out of the race due to 50 percent offset clause associated with this contract. Previously, Eurocopter was selected by the armed forces but the contract was cancelled by the Defence Ministry in December, 1997 because Eurocopter had sent the civilian version of the helicopter for field trials. This time, Eurocopter will be sending the military version of the helicopter and is expected to win the contract. Out of the 197 helicopters, 133 will be given to the Army and the rest will be given to the Air Force to replace their aging fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters that are being used in high altitude conditions in air maintenance roles and for surveillance, as well as search and rescue missions.
All these developments are giving the desired results to New Delhi. Moscow is now on the back-foot and has understood that it will face competition in the market it has been ruling. Russia has indicated that it is ready to look at a downward revision of the price for the Aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. Moscow has also resolved the issue of Transfer of Technology of T-90 tanks and has released $64 million for the development of multi-role transport aircraft (MTA). Russia and India signed an agreement in 2007 to develop a 20 ton cargo capacity plane to fulfill futuristic needs of both the countries. Ilyushin design bureau, Irkut Corporation and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will develop the aircraft. Production of the aircraft is expected to begin in about eight years and both the countries will equally share the cost of the $600 million project. India will procure about 45 aircraft and Russia is expected to get 100 aircraft to replace An-12, An-26 and An-32 aircraft. Thus the IAF will have three different maintenance lines for three types of aircraft of different cargo capacity (Boeing c-17, Airbus A330 MRTT and Russian MTA) and will not be dependent on of any particular vendor. IAF will also have the option to switch to any vendor at any time.
Progress Towards Blue Water Navy
The Navy is an unique arm of the Indian Armed Forces. True to the nature of the seas it sails over, the Navy has vast imagination, tons of potential and patience to wait till it transforms into a true blue water Navy. The Navy is the only arm of the armed forces that has been trying to remove dependency on foreign vendors and has been encouraging indigenous efforts to become self-reliant. The Navy has its own design bureau that started working on designing small ships like patrol boats, corvettes, etc and kept on honing its design skills. It has successfully designed 7000 ton class destroyer and is now designing the 44000 ton aircraft carrier. The project, codenamed P-71, started in 2002 with the initially sanctioned amount of Rs 3,260 crore. The project started gaining momentum in 2006, when the production of warship building blocks began in Cochin Shipyard Ltd. This is the latest technology in building large ships. The Cochin Shipyard Ltd. has already procured 8,000 tons of steel from SAIL and DRDO. The keel of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) was laid on 28th February, 2009 and it is expected to be handed over to the Navy in 2014. India will become the fifth nation in the world to have the capability of making aircraft carriers. The other four nations are the US, Russia, France and the UK. Among these four, UK is still to produce a ship of 44,000 ton capacity. The IAC will have the capacity of handling 30 aircraft, i.e. Russian Mig-29K, indigenous Light Combat Aircraft and Kamov 31 helicopters.
Indian pilots are already training to fly Mig-29 K in Russia. The deal for 12 Mig-29K fighters and 4 Mig-29K UB operational conversion trainer aircraft. The total deal which includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov is worth $740 million. These 16 medium multi-role combat aircraft are being upgraded into dedicated, network-centric information warfare platforms that possess force-multiplier capabilities such as airborne early warning and control. The first batch of four aircraft is expected to be delivered by the end of this year and the rest will be delivered by 2010. It is interesting that all the Mig-29Ks will be here by 2010, but the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov for which Mig-29Ks were bought will not be delivered to India before 2013. Russians raised the total cost of the aircraft carrier to $2.2 billion and then to $2.9 billion. Though Moscow has agreed to look at the downward revision of the final amount but the aircraft will not be delivered before 2013 against the original deadline of 2008.
Russia has also promised that it will meet the scheduled deadline of delivering three Project 11356 Krivak IV class guided missile frigates. The frigate has deadweight of 4,000 metric tons and speed of 30 knots. This was a follow-on order placed in 2006 at a cost of $1.6 billion. General Director of the Yantar shipyard, Igor Orlov confirmed that the first ship will be floated out this year, the second one in spring 2010 and the third a little later. All the three ships will be delivered by 2012 and will be equipped with Brahmos supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles and not the Club-N/3M54TE missiles installed on previous frigates.
Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has given in-principle approval to the Navy’s proposal of construction of four more Kolkata class destroyers. The follow-on order will be given to Mumbai based Mazagaon Dockyards Limited under the project name “Project 15B”. MDL is currently constructing three Kolkata class destroyers under “Project 15A” and is expected to start the delivery (one each year) starting from 2010. Subsequently, the MDL will start working on Project 15B. The MDL has given an order for navigational equipments, based on the Consilium Selux radar, for three destroyers at a cost of $4.6 million. With a 6,800 ton displacement, these vessels will be able to cruise with a speed of 30+ knots. They will have advanced stealth features and will be armed with Brahmos missiles and Israeli Barak air-defence missile systems. They will also be equipped with ‘Nagin’ active towed array radar and ‘Humsa-NG’ hull mounted radar. In total, the Navy will have seven Kolkata class destroyers.