The Indian Air Force (IAF) would like to induct more Rafale fighter planes, but any decision on this would be taken in the future depending on desirability, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said on Tuesday.
“We would like to have more (Rafales) but it is a decision which will be taken in the near future, based on capability and desirability for the aircraft of this kind,” the Air Force chief said at the annual IAF press conference.
The presser comes ahead of Indian Air Force Day on 8 October.
“Any air force will be proud to have an aircraft of Rafale class, which in the mid-weight category.”
“In terms of weapon capability, its avionics, instrumentation and electronics are exceptional. It is one of the leading fighter aircraft of the current generation. We are proud the contract has been signed and we will get it in three to five and a half years,” Raha said.
India inked a deal with France to buy 36 Rafale multi-role fighters manufactured by Dassault Aviation on 23 September.
The $7.87 billion (about Rs 59,000 crore) inter-government agreement on the purchase of the aircraft in fly-away condition was signed by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“We want to have a mix of fighter aircraft like the Sukhoi Su 30, the medium-weight category like Rafale, and of course the light-weight category Tejas, which we will induct in large numbers in the next 10 years,” he said.
The IAF chief also spoke on the plans to start a new line of manufacturing of fighter jets in India and said there were unsolicited offers, adding that (Swedish) Gripen was the best as it is the latest.
On the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Raha said two LCAs have already been pressed into service whereas two more will be inducted in its first squadron by the year-end.
“In another year and a half, we will have a full squadron of the LCA with IOC (initial operational clearance) version,” he said.
Tejas is an Indian single-seat, single-jet engine, multi-role light fighter plane designed by Aeronautical Development Agency and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the IAF and the Navy.
Tejas has so far got only the initial operational clearance.
The final operational clearance (FOC) for Tejas is awaited which, Raha said, will be coming in five to six months.
“We have also cleared formation of a squadron with FOC version towards which HAL is working very hard. We are sure that in five to six months, the clearance will be obtained and the company will start production of this aircraft as well,” he said.
The IAF chief said the FOC version is likely to be operational in an IAF squadron in another three years.
He said there are “unsolicited offers” from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Saab and Lockheed Martin to manufacture fighter aircraft in India and said the company which offered the best deal will be selected.
“I mentioned earlier that the government of India and the Air Force are thinking of getting another fighter aircraft production line in India under manufacturer licence. It will be proper transfer of technology so that we have good share of technology and India will become a hub for manufacturing as well as repair and overhaul,” Raha said.
“Whosoever gives the best deal; they are all very capable… I think Gripen is latest in terms of generation. It is a new aircraft compared to F-16, but it depends on the capability and what sort of technology transfer in terms of depth and quantity and quality, and of course the price tag, will decided which aircraft will be manufactured in future under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. It is on the table and nothing is decided yet.”
On the inter-government agreement with Russia for the purchase of a fifth-generation aircraft, the Air Force chief said the discussions are in an advanced stage and a “lot of clarity” has come in the matter.
He expressed the hope that a decision in the matter will be taken “sooner than later”.