India’s long-standing requirement for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) – touted as the world’s most expensive at an estimated $20 billion – has been officially scrapped. By canceling the tender, India relieves itself of a procurement headache in terms of the finite details involved in a very complicated negotiation over localized work share. Yet, at the same time, the Indian Air Force is left bereft of necessary fighters.
Under the IAF’s plans, the aim is to field 42 squadrons of combat aircraft by 2022. Currently, the official figure is 34, of which 14 squadrons are made of aging and increasingly obsolete MiG-21s and MiG-27s. What’s more, the serviceability rates of the IAF’s combat fleet are poor, thus in reality rendering the service around 25 operational combat squadrons at any given time.
The fate of the MMRCA appeared clear when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached an agreement in Paris back in April for a direct government-to-government, off-the-shelf purchase of 36 Rafales to address immediate IAF shortcomings. However, by moving past the complicated program – which called for 108 of the 126 units purchased to be produced in India by state aerospace giant HAL – the government failed to bridge the emerging numbers gap.
As such, the IAF is now calling for the purchase of at least 20 more Rafales on top of the original 36. But unfortunately for the IAF, the necessary additional funding to buy these aircraft is simply not in the procurement allocation within the defense budget at this time. So, the service may have to wait several years before adding another squadron’s worth of Rafales, and it would still be well short of its requisite fighter numbers.