The air force is also planning to exercise its option for another six C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin, in a bid to complete the full squadron of 12 Hercules in its transport fleet.
As it seeks to reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2022, up from its current 34, the air force is advancing its modernization process. Under its 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan 2002-17, the service is buying fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, radars and missile systems in a phased manner.
“We are on a path of modernizing our assets. In the last five-year plan [2007-12], the [air force] procurements were around $27 billion. We envisage procuring assets worth more than $37 billion over the next two plan periods [by 2022],” says the air force deputy chief, Air Marshal R.K. Sharma.
Several megadeals could reach the signing table this year, including the estimated $20 billion MMRCA project with Dassault to supply 126 Rafales to the air force.
“Termed as one of the largest defense deals in the world, the fighter deal is large enough to change the face of the defense industry in India and France,” says Gurpal Singh, deputy director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, who heads its defense, aerospace and security group.
Some of the other big-ticket contracts in the offing include the 214 units of fifth-generation fighters to be jointly developed by India and Russia, as well as the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mk. II turboprop aircraft.
In addition, the air force has plans to buy around 220 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), orders for the initial 20 of which have been placed with an Indian consortium led by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
The air force is progressively introducing BAE Systems Hawk advanced trainers, 123 of which were ordered in two contracts inked in March 2004 and July 2010 totaling 160 billion rupees ($3.2 billion).
India has signed a $2.4 billion contract with Thales and Dassault to upgrade its 51 Mirage 2000 combat jets that were acquired in the 1980s. Plans also are underway to modernize Su-30MKI fighters deployed by the air force with certain so-called fifth-generation aircraft characteristics to convert them into “Super Sukhois.”