The "mother" could well become the "granny" of all defence deals in the years ahead. India is likely to go in for another 63 fighters after delivery of the first 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) if the "timelines" for its other fighter development projects are not met, say top defence officials.
When the MMRCA selection process was initiated by the defence ministry in mid-2007, the overall project cost was pegged at Rs 42,000 crore, or $10.4 billion for 126 fighters. But it will zoom well beyond $20 billion, if India eventually decides to opt for 189 jets since inflation is also being factored in. Even with 126 jets, this is the biggest such fighter contract going around the world as of now.
This comes even as MoD is all set to open the commercial bids of the two jets left in the MMRCA fray -French Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon -"within a week or two". Eurofighter Typhoon is backed by the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy,
MoD has already rejected "any scope for comeback" by the other four jets, including the American F/A-18s and F-16s, ejected out of the MMRCA race in April on technical grounds after gruelling field trials.
"We are looking for only 126 fighters. The first 18 jets will come from abroad, while the rest 108 will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd after transfer of technology (ToT) from end-2016 or early-2017 onwards," said a senior MoD official on Monday.
"But yes, if the timelines for the Tejas LCA (light combat aircraft) and the stealth Indo-Russian FGFA (fifth-generation fighter aircraft) projects are not met, we will go for more MMRCA to retain IAF's combat edge," he added.
Apart from progressively inducting 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from Russia for around $12 billion, IAF is slated to induct the first lot of 120 indigenous Tejas from end-2013 onwards. India also hopes to begin inducting 250 to 300 FGFA from 2020 onwards under the joint project with Russia, which rough calculations show will eventually cost India around $35 billion in the decades ahead.
But that is in the future. The request for proposal (RFP) for the ongoing MMRCA competition, issued in August 2007, did have the standard clause of India reserving the option to go in for 50% more fighters, over and above the initial 126, in the coming years.
This, however, is the first time that top defence officials have directly linked the progress in the LCA and FGFA projects to the possibility of exceeding the MMRCA acquisition beyond the first 126 jets.
"Commercial bids of Eurofighter and Rafale will soon be opened, with the reports of the Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) and Technical Offsets Evaluation Committee (TOEC) virtually complete now," said another official.
But it will not be "a cut-and-dried" affair to determine the lowest bidder (L-1). "Calculation of L-1 will take around a month due to the huge amounts of mathematical and data verification of the lifecycle costs of operating the jets over a 40-year period, with 6,000 hours of flying, as well as cost of ToT," he added.