Costliest fighter upgrade

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 14.07.11
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New Delhi, July 13: The government today approved the costliest military aircraft upgrade programme yet, gifting to France a deal that will see the Indian Air Force’s 25-year-old Mirage fighter planes being dressed up for more than Rs 200 crore a piece.

The cabinet committee on security (CCS) chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this morning put its seal of approval on the Mirage 2000 modernisation package that will cost $2.4 billion.

The IAF inducted 51 Mirage 2000 aircraft, made by Dassault Aviation of France, from 1985 to 1988. Over the years, the IAF has lost four such aircraft in crashes or in other damage.

Indian and French negotiators toiled over the proposal for nearly five years because of the high price that, critics said, would buy new aircraft. That is not entirely true. The kind of new combat aircraft that the IAF is currently evaluating would come, at a conservative estimate, for $80 million (over Rs 360 crore) each.

The total upgrade programme for the Mirage aircraft could top $4 billion. The proposal cleared does not include about $900 million for new weapons (possibly MBDA-made Mica air-to-air missiles) that will re-arm the aircraft and another $500 million for new facilities at Hindustan Aeronautics’s Bangalore establishment.

The Mirage 2000 aircraft of the IAF are based in Gwalior. The multi-role aircraft are also assigned a nuclear strike role. The upgrade programme envisages a new radar, new avionics, an electronic warfare suite and counter-measures.

Dassault Aviation shut down its Mirage 2000 assembly line in France in 2007. But before that it introduced a variant known as the Mirage 2000-V (called “dash five”). In the upgrade, the IAF’s Mirages are to be brought up to the dash-five standard.

India is currently in the process of acquiring 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft that could cost $12 billion. The French aircraft Rafale, also made by Dassault, and the Eurofighter Typhoon, are the only two in the race for the order from a field of six.

The Mirage 2000 upgrade will be mostly done by French firm Thales, in which Dassault has a significant stake.

Thales is also the major beneficiary of the Indian Navy’s Scorpene submarine acquisition programme.

Two Mirage 2000 aircraft will be flown to France for the modernisation package. Two will be upgraded in India with assistance from the French firms and the rest will be refitted by Hindustan Aeronautics.

Israel had also made a bid to modernise the IAF’s Mirage aircraft for half the cost that the French have charged. But the IAF did not find the Israeli package suitable.