Both the IAF and Indian Army are busy upgrading their basic support infrastructure
Prasun K. Sengupta
When it comes to air power projection, the gaping holes are not just limited to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) depleting combat aircraft squadron strength, but they also extend to vital support infrastructure, as well as block obsolescence of guided air-combat missiles and ground-based air-defence systems of both the IAF and Indian Army.
Three proposals are now awaiting financial clearance in the current fiscal year: an order for 18 additional licence-assembled Su-30MKI from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); the procurement of up to 50 upgraded MiG-29UPGs from Russia off-the-shelf; and commencement of the Super Su-30MKI deep-upgrade project.
The first was confirmed at Aero India 2019 in Bengaluru last February by Anatoly G. Punchuk, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, when he said: “We have received an official request from the IAF for 18 more (semi-knocked-down) kits just in January this year. We are preparing a commercial offer.”
Although, Punchuk did not confirm the cost of this projected order, it is estimated that the figure would be a third of the last order for Su-30MKIs from Russia, which was placed in 2012 and was valued at Rs 17,246 crore order for an additional 42 Su-30MKIs in semi-knocked-down condition that HAL subsequently had licence-assembled. Earlier, last November, Russia had made an unsolicited offer for the off-the-shelf supply of up to 34 upgraded MiG-29UBGs, each powered by Klimov RD-33MK turbofans and using the Phazotron NIIR-supplied Xhuk-M2E multi-mode fire-control radars.
While the IAF has been invited to buy them at a unit-cost of USD25 million or Rs 175 crore (since they are already substantially upgraded to the MiG-29SMT standard and have not been flown ever since they were built in 2008), each of them will cost Rs 285 crore after being upgraded to the IAF’s specifications. An IAF technical inspection team visited Russia last January and has since submitted a favourable report to India’s ministry of defence (MoD). The IAF’s existing 69 MiG-29B-12s are presently being upgraded to the MiG-29UPG-standard under a 2008 contract worth USD900 million (Rs 3,850 crore). These are in service with the Adampur-based 8 Wing’s 47 Black Archers and 223 Tridents squadrons and the Jamnagar-based 33 Wing’s 28 First Supersonics squadron.
In 2010, the IAF had issued a Rs 10,200 crore Request for Proposals (RFP) for the deep-upgrade of 84 of its Su-30MKIs into the Super Su-30MKI configuration (FORCE October 2018, pages 18-23). Negotiations subsequently went into a limbo since Russia’s asking price had then exceeded the IAF’s estimated budget. The upgrade offer was resurrected last year during the summit-level talks between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin and a contract is due to be inked later this year. Meanwhile, Alpha-Tocol has bagged a contract under the IAF’s ‘Eagle Eye’ project for installing six fifth-generation R-118 digital radar warning receivers on each of the IAF’s 148 Su-30MKIs currently based in Lohegaon (Maharashtra), Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), Tejpur and Chabua (Assam), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Bhisiana and Halwara (Punjab), Bhuj (Gujarat), Sirsa (Haryana), Kalaikunda and Hashimara (West Bengal) and Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu).
The IAF had initiated efforts for constructing 108 new generation hardened aircraft shelters (NG-HAS) for housing its Su-30MKI heavy-/medium-multi-role combat aircraft (H-/M-MRCA) back in 2012, the cost of which was then pegged at Rs 5,400 crore. Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) was accorded by the MoD to its Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in December 2012 for evolving the NG-HAS’s detailed engineering design. Subsequently, a proposal to rework the project in three phases by categorising air bases within a distance of 100km, 200km and beyond 200km from the border, respectively, with a gap of two years in each phase, came under consideration. The first phase was to involve the construction of 36 NG-HAS requiring a cash outflow of Rs 270 crore. Under this, the air bases at Pathankot, Srinagar, Udhampur, Bagdogra, Naliya, Hasimara, Jaisalmer and Uttarlai were to receive top priority.
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