The Swiss-made Pilatus PC-7 has emerged as the lowest bidder for the Indian Air Force's basic trainer aircraft tender, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik announced on Wednesday.
"We had shortlisted three companies – the Americans, Swiss and the Koreans. Now we have shortlisted down to the lowest bidder, which is the Swiss vendor, Pilatus. Commercial negotiations are going on. Hopefully, within the next one and a half to two years, we will be able to start the supply of the aircraft," Air Marshal Naik said at a press briefing held at the IAF's Headquarters Training Command.
Other contenders in the running for the globally-issued tender included the American Hawker-Beechcraft T-6C Texas-II, Korean Aerospace's KT-1 and the Pilatus PC-21.
Under the current tender, 75 trainers are to be procured from the vendor. Separately, a further 106 basic trainer aircrafts, named the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40, will be designed and manufactured by state-owned defence undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
The IAF's basic trainer aircraft fleet is in perilous state, a situation exacerbated after the grounding of its entire fleet of HPT-32 Deepak trainers in 2009. Over the past few years almost 20 IAF pilots have lost their lives in Deepak crashes that led the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to state that the aircraft was technologically outdated and beset by flight safety hazards.
The outgoing Air Chief also confirmed that the long-delayed Mirage-2000 upgrade is expected to be cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security – the apex body authorised to clear major defence deals – by the end of June or early July.
"The Mirage-2000 upgrade will be going to the CCS after the approval of the Raksha Mantri, which I expect in a week or two. The CCS should then take about a week or two to clear it, after which, the Cost Negotiation Committee will start," Naik said.
The three-year-old deal, expected to be about $2.4 billion, has remained unresolved as New Delhi and France's Dassault Aviation and Thales failed to arrive at a mutually agreeable price to get the job done.
The upgrade is expected to provide the aircraft, which were originally inducted in 1985, with an additional 20-25 years of service. The IAF currently has 51 two-decade-old Mirage aircraft, used for air defence and ground attacks, in three squadrons based in Gwalior.
The IAF is also actively looking to substantially add to its heavy-lift aircraft fleet, and has indicated its willingness to buy six more Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transporters, after it purchased the original six for close to $1-billion.
"Yes, we would like to have more C-130J and C-17 aircrafts. We will start with the statement of case soon," Naik said.
The aircrafts are critical for the IAF as it moves to bolster its strategic lift capabilities, even as it seeks to shift an increasing number of troops and military equipment along the Line of Actual Control, which the country shares with China. The aircrafts also act as crucial force multipliers by extending the Air Force's strategic reach significantly.
Separately, it has also been looking to replace its Soviet-era IL-76 transport aircraft fleet, which have been dogged by a lack of serviceability and spares, and are also coming to the end of their operational lifespan.