Rafale, Tejas enhance IAF’s firepower in 2020
Acquisitions are an integral part of the Indian Air Force’s functioning and the year 2020 was no different. Rafale and Tejas aircraft, MAFI Phase-II and integration of BrahMos air version missile on Su-30 MKI aircraft were among the highlights of the year.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) engaged in several crucial acquisitions in 2020, including the Rafale fighter jets from France, while the successful integration of BrahMos air-launched missile on Su-30 MKI aircraft was a major achievement during the year.
Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) was yet another significant event. In May, MAFI Phase-II contract for 37 airfields was signed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with Tata Power SED for Rs 1189.44 crore. The upgradation of navigational aids and infrastructure under this project enhances the operational capability by facilitating air operations of military and civil aircraft even in poor visibility and adverse weather while enhancing aerospace safety. The MAFI Phase-I project which was completed in December 2019 involved modernisation of 30 airfields of IAF. The 37 airfields of MAFI Phase-II include 24 of IAF, nine of Indian Navy (IN), and four of other services.
Under a deal with France, Rafale aircraft have been ferried to India and fully operationalized. Moreover, the first squadron of Rafale was successfully inducted in September 2020 with necessary assets and infrastructure.
The IAF also successfully integrated BrahMos air version missile on Su-30 MKI aircraft. The BrahMos missile provides IAF a much-desired capability to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy round-the-clock and in all weather conditions.
Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) was accorded by Defence Council for procurement of potential indigenous platforms such as ASTRA BVR missile, Smart Anti Field Weapon (SAAW), Long Range Land Attack Cruise Missile (LR-LACM) and HTT-40. Procurement of these defence equipment is in progress.
Another major procurement is that of 83 advanced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk 1A from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Similarly, procurement of 56 C-295 from Airbus with participation of an Indian production agency for manufacture of 40 aircraft (out of a total 56) in India is also at CFA approval stage and a contract would be signed soon. The case is first-of-its-kind which envisages participation of private companies and would give a boost to India’s defence industry.
Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) from HAL; IEWR and D-29 from BEL; Harop (P-IV) (Option Clause) and upgrade of UAV systems are also at an advanced stage of acquisition procedure.
For actively supporting the national vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, IAF avails various schemes launched by the Government of India (GoI) and provides impetus to the process of self-reliance in Defence manufacturing. Some of the major programmes under the Make in India initiative are:
Make-II Scheme: IAF has issued Project Sanction Order (PSO) for prototype development to undertake design and development of chaff & flares, IRST for Su-30, foldable fibreglass mats, 125 kg bombs and fuze for aerial bombs by the Indian Industry.
As many as 18 IAF projects under the Technology Development Fund (TDF) set up by GoI and managed by DRDO are at various stages of implementation. For instance, contracts for the design and development of video processing/ switching board for Su-30 MKI and burner rings for Mirage-2000 engine have been awarded to Indian vendors.
Under the iDEX (Innovation for Defence Excellence) framework of DIO (Defence Innovation Organisation), MoD for engaging industries, including MSMEs, startups and individual innovators, IAF participated in four Defence India Startup Challenge challenges during 2020.
AoN for procurement of six AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning & Control) Mk-2 aircraft with associated equipment has been granted by DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) in December under the ‘Buy (Indian-IDDM)’ category.
Yet another milestone crossed by IAF in 2020 is the induction of LCA ‘Tejas’, which is a product of indigenous effort towards building a potent fighter aircraft with contemporary capabilities. Tejas is the first advanced fly-by-wire fighter aircraft designed, developed and manufactured in India. The first LCA Squadron was formed in 2016 and till date, 16 aircraft have been delivered to IAF in IOC configuration. Delivery of FOC aircraft has also commenced and IAF would be procuring 83 LCA Mk 1A soon. The FOC configuration comes with improved weapons capability, enhanced flight envelope, inflight refuelling capability and advanced features for low speed handling.
In 2020, IAF initiated the process to upgrade its legacy Pechora missile system of post 1987 vintage and the contract for digitization of firing units of the system was signed in September. Post digitization, performance of the system would be enhanced considerably. Currently, the digitization of the firing unit is progressing.