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By Bulbul Singh

The purchase of Medium Range Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) by the Indian Air Force has become more complex with the state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) telling the Indian government that it will not be able to establish two different lines for the license production of the aircraft.

The Indian government had recently decided to increase the purchase numbers of MMRCA from 126 to 200 in a phased manner after clearing a proposal of the Indian Air Force to phase out 60 Jaguar aircraft at a future date.

The decision had made the task of the Indian defense ministry more easy to accommodate more then one type of MMRCA aircraft. The decision to select the MMRCA will also bring in international political and diplomatic compulsions, said an Indian defense ministry official.

However HAL’s inability to set up two lines of aircraft production has created a very complex situation whereby the Indian defense ministry will not be able to accommodate more then one aircraft even if it decides to have more then one source of the MMRCA.

HAL had said that its hands are already full with many upgrade programs and license production jobs and it will not be possible to establish more then one line of production for the MMRCA.

Currently HAL is license producing 140 Russian made SU 30 MKI aircraft, and will also produce the homegrown Light Combat Aircraft currently under development. Besides, HAL is undertaking upgrade jobs of MiG- 21, MiG- 27, and Jaguars and is manufacturing the homegrown Advanced Light Helicopter.

Currently HAL is the only manufacturer of defense aircraft for the Indian defense forces. Though the Indian Air Force is in favor of the Mirage 2000-5, Russia is a strong contender with its MiG 29SMT, being the largest weapon supplier has a clout. The Americans have also put in their F-16s and the F-18s and American’s willingness to offer more defense technologies as part of the growing Indo-US defense ties will be reflected in the outcome of the MMRCA award.

Grippen of SAAB, Sweden is the last in the reckoning, say Indian Air Force officials as the decision on the MMRCA program would be a major political decision.

In December 2004 Indian defense ministry sent a Request for Information to Lockheed Martin of United States, Boeing of United States, Dasault of France and RAC MiG of Russia for the purchase of 126 MMRCAs. The RFP for the programme has yet to be issued.

The MMRCA program is designed to provide strategic offence, nuclear delivery, precision bombing capability, Multi-role capability, and add to the squadron strength of the Indian Air Force.

The Indian defense ministry official said the final decision on the MMRCA deal will be a political decision.

The official side in case the Russian angle is kept in place then the split order could be between the American F-16 or the F-18 and the Russian MiG 35.

Another option would be to just go in for the Mirage and keep both Russia and America, said the Indian defense ministry official.

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