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By Bulbul Singh

28 Sep 06. In order to fill the gaps in the depleting inventory of the Indian Air Force the Indian government has turned towards France for seeking help for procurement of used Mirage combat aircraft.

A senior Indian Air Force official said that the defence ministry in principle has approved the Indian Air Force proposal to procure used combat aircraft currently operated by the French Air Force. A team from the Indian Air Force conducted an in-house exercise early this year for global hunting of procurement of used aircraft and then it was decided that the Indian Air Force would approach governments of France and Russia for procurement of Mirage and MiG 29 aircraft.

In July this year two teams of the Indian Air Force visited Moscow and Paris for evaluation of used MiG 29 aircraft with the Russian Air Force and the Mirage 2000-H aircraft with the French Air Force. The experts team reported to the Indian defence ministry that the used MiG 29 aircraft with the Russian Air Force do not have extended life cycle option and re-equipping the Russian MiG 29 aircraft would turn out to be an expensive exercise. Therefore the Indian defence ministry rejected the idea of sourcing MiG 29 aircraft from Russia.

However the Indian Air Force team which went to Paris for the evaluation of old Mirage 2000-H aircraft currently with the French Air Force found the fleet highly combat worthy and recommended to the defence ministry that if power thrust of the aircraft could be extended then the French aircraft could serve the Indian Air Force at least by another 15 years.

A senior Indian defence ministry official said, by end of the next year the sanctioned fleet strength of the Indian Air Force will fall from 666 aircraft to 522. Therefore the Indian Air Force has no other option but to acquire used combat aircraft from overseas on priority basis, the official added.

The defence ministry official described the slow induction process of the combat aircraft very unfortunate and also said that India’s defence research agency, Defence Research and Development Organisation, DRDO has also not lived up to expectations which in 1997 said by the end of 2010 it will deliver over 100 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, which is even today at prototype production state.

The defence ministry official said, procurement of 126 Medium Range Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) will be the biggest ever purchase made by India ever since its independence which would cost the government over $9bn.

Sources in the Indian defence ministry said that the ruling United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress Party had been marred with controversies in the past in various defence scandals and therefore the present government is too shy and slow to decide on big ticket defence purchases.

Sources further added that even if the ruling government floats the tender for the MMRCA early next year it will take at least three years to carry out technical evaluation and flight trials of the various combat aircraft which will participate in the bids. Moreover the government will further take additional three to five years to take a decision on short listing the company which will win the MMRCA contract.

Sources further added that there is a debate within the defence ministry and the Indian Air Force whether the government should place the contract to different original equipment manufacturers for license production to different combat aircraft. Once these issues are sorted out only then the defence ministry will float the global tender.

Early September this year a high level Indian defence team led by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Paris to hold talks for purchase of used Mirage 2000 aircraft.

Mukherjee requested the French government that India

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