Shot in the Arm

Work on the HAL AMCA should be hastened for it to become an asset for the IAF

Rohan Ramesh

Bengaluru: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is struggling with the challenge of depleting squadrons. Now, that is not a new problem and the only short-term solution, the acquisition of Dassault Rafales from France, has run into a plethora of political problems. Though the immediate answer could be more purchase of the So-30MKI Flanker Multirole aircraft (a plane which HAL domestically produces under licence), the IAF just does not seem to be interested.

An AMCA and LCA Tejas model on display at the DRDO stand during DefExpo 2018

With the new request for information (RFI) for 110 fighters issued just before DefExpo this year, it could take years for the new fighters to be chosen, not to mention the time incurred to manufacture and deliver the aircraft, even if a deal is agreed soonest.

While the LCA Tejas programme has been affected by perpetual delays caused by confusion over the final design, there seems to be no respite in sight for the IAF as its squadron levels hover at dangerously low numbers.

While 36 Rafale multirole fighters have been bought in the interim and will start arriving soon, the IAF still faces an overwhelming and quantitatively superior People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Aided by the Chinese, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) too, is adding aircraft to its fleet at a frightening pace with the JF-17 Thunder aircraft turning into its mainstay.

Though the IAF is committed to inducting 40 HAL Tejas Mark 1 and 83 Mark 1A aircraft (a total of close to 12 squadrons), the production has been painfully slow with only four aircraft delivered last year and just one this year until October. The IAF still wants Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) to sort out serviceability and other issues sorted out before it starts inducting Tejas Mk 1A aircraft into its squadrons.

This is where the HAL AMCA can make a difference. With the FGFA project being shelved for good by the government, all energies are now being focused on this stealth aircraft which for all good purposes may be an able replacement for the SEPECAT Jaguar, Dassault Mirage 2000 and the MiG-27 in the IAF.

This is where the IAF has to step in and step up. As a result of its coldness for the LCA Tejas project, the programme suffered numerous delays and setbacks. The IAF must ensure the same does not happen to the AMCA.

Acquiring stealth technology is another issue altogether. While foreign manufacturers like Saab, Dassault, Boeing etc. have offered help, the offers ultimately hinge on 110 multirole fighter deal.

ADA is the designated primary designer and developer of the aircraft followed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) agencies which will research core technologies that will be implemented in the HAL AMCA. A host of institutes, universities and other firms, too, will assist in the design and development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

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