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By Bulbul Singh

23 Jun 11. The jinxed Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage fighter upgrade project has hit another stumbling block minutes before the final draft was being readied for clearance by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the highest body authorized to give permission for India’s big ticket defence deals.

Financial advisers to the Indian defence ministry raised concerns that the price of the upgrade was too steep and appears uneconomical. Sources said, “Some bureaucrats pointed out to defence planners who will ultimately take the final decision on the Mirage upgrade that the deal would not be for $2.1 billion, but for almost double the amount at around $3.9 billion, if the amount for weapons and missile integration is taken into consideration. This is rather too steep as for this ‘per unit price’ a brand new SU30 MKI could be purchased.”

Sources, however point out that the Program is unlikely to be kicked out altogether as the Indian defence ministry had agreed in principle during French President Sarkozy’s visit to India in November that the deal would be signed in due course.

The Indian Air Force Chief announced at the Bangalore Air Show in February that the Mirage upgrade deal was almost through. Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said, “It (the project finalisation) should happen shortly.” Yes, there were difficulties, but it is all over now and you will see the result soon.”

“The negotiations are now successfully concluded. The final report is now with the defence ministry and we expect to conclude the contract by the end of this financial year,” the IAF Deputy Chief, Air Marshal R.K. Sharma at announced at the same venue.

Unnamed executives of Thales, expressed shock at the undue delay. Another executive of an overseas defence company said, “The finance wing of the Indian Defence Ministry is creating hurdles on several defence projects, which would ultimately lead to delays of essential arms deliveries to the Indian defence forces.”

Last year, the defence ministry had to cancel a major defence purchase programme when the Finance Ministry annulled the wishes of the IAF to buy the EADS air refueler and not the Russian IL-78.

India’s Defence minister A K Antony had to tell the Indian Parliament in January 2010 later, “The finance ministry had expressed certain reservations relating to the competitiveness of the bids and the reasonableness of the price for the IAF project to acquire the six new flight refueler aircraft.”

As part of the upgrade programme the IAF will get four Mirage 2000H aircraft upgraded in France. The first two aircraft will be delivered, after upgrade and certification, within 36 months of contract signature.

In addition, the 2000H would be upgraded with avionics, sensors, weapons capability and an Electronic Warfare (EW)suite to enable the aircraft to be used as an all weathers, 24/7.

As part of the proposed avionics upgrade, all the avionics architecture will be upgraded as one composite system. The aircraft will have an improved high performance multi-mode airborne radar with longer detection ranges and better features. The navigation system upgrade would enable the aircraft to take updates from satellites and navigation systems. The multi-mode radar will have the capability to display more than 20 targets. In addition the upgraded radar will be able to pick up ground moving targets over land and sea.

“The aircraft will be fitted with a new generation digital EW suite which will be an improvement over the existing suite in terms of bandwidth and frequency coverage,” said the IAF official.

The aircraft will have a glass cockpit with most of the flight and mission parameters displayed on the Head Up Display (HUD). All the new equipment being fitted in the cockpit will have Night Flying Capability.

The upgraded aircraft will be able to carry six or more latest generation active BVRAMs with a launch range in exce

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