The Indian Air Force (IAF) has submitted a report on the trials it has conducted on six combat jets it is evaluating for an order for 126 aircraft and expects the selection of the fighter within a year.
The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, is quoted by India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) as saying that the exhaustive field evaluation trials (FET) report covered all the aircraft in contention, and that once the selection has been made, he expected the chosen jet to be in service within three years, say by 2014.
Naik also disclosed that after completing the combat jet trials, the IAF had also completed the field trials of utility helicopters and combat helicopters. The trials of the heavy-lift helicopters were, meanwhile, in the final phase.
'The next four years are crucial but by 2014, IAF would have all the new aircraft and helicopters well in place as part of its transformation process now underway,' India Strategic quotes Naik as saying in its coming issue.
Each system is being acquired along with its training simulators.
As for the combat jet selection process, the air chief gave no indication as to how each of the six aircraft in the fray performed during the trials. He only observed that the IAF had completed its assignment and submitted the report to the defence ministry July-end - on time as promised.
The Russian Mig-35 (initially designated Mig-29M2), Europe's Eurofighter Typhoon, the Swedish Gripen, the French Rafale, and the US Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin's F-16IN Super Viper are in the fray. The IAF tender is for 126 aircraft with an option for 63 more.
As for the combat helicopters, Naik said that both the Russian
Mi-28 and US Boeing Apache AH 64D had been tested in India. Some weapon trials are due to be conducted in the country of origin. The IAF had issued a request for proposal for 22 combat helicopters to replace its ageing Soviet vintage Mi-35s.
Trials of Boeing's Chinook CH 47F heavy-lift helicopter had also been completed, while that of Russian Mi-26 were likely to be held this month. The IAF needs 15 heavy-lift helicopters to replace and augment its ageing fleet of half-a-dozen obsolete Mi-26s acquired in the mid-1980s.
Trials of the utility helicopters, needed both for the IAF and the Indian Army, are also over. The Eurocopter Fennec 555 and Russia's Kamov 226 are the two contenders. The two services have tendered for a combined order of 197 helicopters.
All aircraft and helicopters are required to operate in the varied hot, humid, desert and high altitude environment of India, particularly to support the deployments in the Himalayan region.
The IAF wants to minimize its inventory of its flying machines to reduce their maintenance costs on the one hand and to increase their operational availability on the other.
Naik said that appropriate infrastructure and communication nodes were also being created as part of the IAF's transformation process now underway.
The IAF aims to have 45 combat squadrons - approximately 800 aircraft - by 2022. Of these, it is already set to acquire more than 270 Sukhoi Su-30MKI air dominance aircraft from Russia. These include 42 aircraft being ordered through India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which is making the aircraft under the licence and transfer of technology (ToT) routes.