State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has pitched for an order to manufacture four additional squadrons of the Su-30 MKI jets to quickly meet gaps in fighter squadron strength but the air force seems to be only keen on ordering replacements for aircraft that have been lost in accidents.
The proposal for manufacturing 72 more fighter jets to add to the current order for 272 was made by the HAL but officials said that the air force has not been keen due to budgetary issues. HAL is hopeful that an order for at least 10 additional aircraft is placed this year so that its Sukhoi manufacturing plant in Nasik does not fall idle.
“If we are looking at a strength of 42 squadrons for the air force, the fastest means of getting it is to go for more Light Combat Aircraft and the Su-30 MKI jets. We are currently making 12 of the fighters per year at the Nasik plant,” HAL chairman R Madhavan told ET.
The company has shared cost breakups to manufacture one, two, three or four squadrons, leaving it for the air force to take a call on the numbers that it wants. Sources have told ET that as of now, the air force is only looking at an order of 8-10 more of the jets to make up for accident losses.
A worry for HAL is that if orders for the jets are not placed this year, its manufacturing line in Nasik will go defunct and the base of Indian vendors that it has created over the past decades will get disrupted. HAL currently produces the jets for around ?450 crore each.
“If the order does not come this year, there will be a two year gap before the line can be restarted as we have to order kits and other parts. The vendor base will be out of business and the ramp up after the gap will be both costly and time consuming,” Madhavan said.
HAL’s proposal, which his currently being discussed with the defence ministry, is to supply the additional aircraft at prices that have already been negotiated for older orders by adding the standard annual escalation.
“This is the fastest method to get more fighter jets. The attrition rate of the older MiG 21s and Jaguar jets is very high. Even if a contract is signed with a foreign manufacturer, it will take at least three years to get the first aircraft,” the HAL chief said, adding that the company is awaiting responses to its proposals from the air force and ministry of defence.
The air force, which is awaiting the delivery of its first new Rafale fighter jets next month, is keen on adding to its order for 36 of the French origin aircraft, with sources telling ET that it requires at least two more squadrons.
The concern being a rapidly decreasing squadron strength that currently lies at 30 but is expected to dip rapidly over the next two years as the MiG 21 and 27 series of fighters are retired from service. An ongoing process to select a foreign partner and Indian manufacturer to make 114 new fighter jets under ‘Make in India’ expected to take at least five years and the air force’s worry is that its conventional edge could be blunted due to a lack of numbers.