In what can be an anti climax of sorts, HAL head Suvarna Raju said that his Nashik Plant is fully capable of producing 5th generation FGFA. HAL-Nashik is presently producing Su30-MKI aircraft. This comes within days of ‘leaked’ stories that HAL is no good to produce a ‘western aircraft’ like Rafale. In fact, the stories implied, that HAL is so bad that even a novice like Reliance is a better option. The defence minister has already asked all of us asking such question to be ashamed of ourselves.
The question however remains, if HAL can manufacture SU 30 MKI. a much larger aircraft than Rafale, equip it with our custom weaponry and avionics ( a mix of Indian, Russian, Israeli and even French) why cant it do so for Rafale?
What is also very obvious that game of big players is on for Indian Air Force requirements. Indian Air Force has a sanctioned strength of about 45 Squadrons that is about 800 Airctafts, however only 33 squadrons (about 600 Aircraft) are believed to be in its inventory. A point to note here is that, in India, number of sanctioned squadrons is not what Air force desires, but actually closer to the number it cannot do without. So of the 800 odd inventory requirement we are running with 600.
Of this only half or 300 can be called advanced fighters of any sort. They include about 200 Su-30, 60 MiG-29, 50 Mirage 2000, and single-digit LCA fighter. Of the reamining fleet, only Jaguras have some life left in them. Both the Mig 21 and Mig 27 are looking at hard stop to their activities by 2025. (Even this date has been extended after repeated delays in Aircraft replenishment). Tis implies some 150 Mig 21 and 90 Mig 27s to be retired from the present inventory.
Simple maths can mean that a total strength of Indian Air Force will be 600 – 240 + 50 Rafale + 100 LCA = 510. And this is the best case scenario in which Indian manufacturing develops efficiency and scale for LCA while Rafale imports ar without a hitch.
The defence minister was right when she said that Indian defence requirements have far over taken its decision making and that short cuts are needed, but the cuts this government is making are fool hardy. Betwwen LCA and Rafale India needs more than 400 aircrafts and government has not cleared was for even half of that. The worst is that the world knows our needs so the pricing is only going to go up. With the assertive neighbors like ours may be we need to give Raju and his HAL a chance. May be be their FGFA can help us to develop a 5th generation fighter that can make most of our hostile Air Forces obsolete and help us in catching up with the numbers.