India is finally giving its Jaguar ”strike” fighters some much-needed new teeth with advanced missiles, engines and avionics. Apart from having a maritime strike role as well, the Jaguars have long been identified by IAF as the jets capable of delivering nuclear weapons if required.
The IAF on Monday issued a RFP (request for proposal) to M/s HoneywellBSE 0.23 % Aerospace, the US-based manufacturer of aircraft engines and avionics, to “completely re-engine” 125 Jaguars and provide 270 F-125IN turbofan engines.
Concurrently, IAF is all set for the first test-flight of a Jagaur fighter upgraded to “Darin-III” standards by defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL), with new-generation avionics including a glass cockpit and autopilot, next month.
Grappling with only 34 fighter squadrons when at least 44 are needed to be “comfortable” against Pakistan and China, IAF has been progressively going in for upgrade of its existing fighters as well as planning new inductions to retain its aerial combat ratio while phasing out the old MiG variants.
IAF already has upgrade projects underway for 51 Mirage-2000s for Rs 17,547 crore and 63 MiG-29s for $964 million, even as it inducts 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs at a cost upwards of $12 billion. Then, it plans to induct 126 French Rafale fighters in the almost $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project.
For futuristic requirements, IAF is looking at inducting over 200 stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft from 2022 onwards, after joint development and production with Russia, at an overall cost that will eventually touch $35 billion.
Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on Tuesday told top IAF commanders that the force was “going through a very busy and challenging” period. “Our focus now, and at all times, must be on three priority areas – operational capability, operational infrastructure and operational security, especially in view of the new inductions in our inventory.”
As for the Jaguar project, the plan is to finish the “design and development” phase with Honeywell on the initial two fighters by 2015-16. The “complete re-engine” phase of the remaining 123 fighters will be completed by 2023-24 by HAL under transfer of technology from the US firm.
IAF had inducted 40 Jaguars from UK from 1979 onwards, which was later followed by indigenous licensed production by HAL. But with progressive upgrades of avionics and weapon systems, the overweight fighters have been suffering from their “under-powered” Adour-811 engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce. Several Jaguar crashes have also occurred due to engine problems.
“There is a serious low thrust engine issue. Earlier, Rolls-Royce was also in the race to supply more powerful engines for the Jaguars but the company withdrew its bid last year. So, IAF got the clearance from the Defence Acquisitions Council to move the project on a single vendor (Honeywell) basis,” said a source.