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India begins search for MiG-21 replacement
March 25, 2017
An Indian Air Force MiG-21. Photo credit: Indian Air Force

India begins search for MiG-21 replacement

The Indian Ministry of Defence has initiated the process of evaluating three prospective fighter platforms to replace the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s legacy MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters (IHS Jane’s).

Although India inked a $8.8 billion U.S. deal for 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters from France, this new requirement – which strongly emphasizes the need for a single-engine fighter – will resume the objective of the ill-fated Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement.

A retired IAF Air Marshal told Defense News that of the offers provided (which IHS Jane’s listed as the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16V, and Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen NG), single-engine platforms will take priority. In effect, the competition would be between Lockheed Martin and Saab.

Notes & Comments:

The procurement process has only begun and it could be a matter of at least several years before India selects a system and successfully finalizes an agreement.

That said, the Dassault Rafale purchase, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, will impact the nature of each contestant’s offering. Commercial offsets and deep transfer-of-technology concessions will be key aspects of the Indian government selection.

Every one of the platforms on offer is configured with an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. The F-16V is offered with the AN/APG-83 radar and the Super Hornet is configured with the APG-79. For the U.S., these are highly sensitive pieces of technology, and the Department of Defense (DoD) may be reluctant to be flexible in terms of transferring critical know-how and expertise in these areas. In fact, Lockheed Martin had promised the release of this technology to South Korea in exchange for its inputs in Seoul’s KFX next-generation fighter program, but this offer fell through due DoD reluctance.

It is also worth noting that by virtue of the Rafale, India will be investing in Thales AESA radar technology, not only in direct terms (via importing an off-the-shelf solution) but also through the Rafale’s offset benefits flowing in to support Indian research and development initiatives in the area. India also has strong ties with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elta. These factors could result in a customized fighter solution, one that pairs the airframe and engine prowess of foreign vendors with hybrid domestic or jointly-developed sensor, electronic warfare, and munitions solutions.

While the IAF did note it is pursuing a single-engine fighter, the reality of Boeing’s relationships with the Indian armed forces and private defence sector should be acknowledged. While the Super Hornet would be redundant in some respects to the Rafale, the fact that the platform has benefitted from the scale of economies (by virtue of U.S. Navy orders) could enable Boeing to position it as a more affordable system (in comparison to the Rafale). The same argument could be made for the F-16, but Boeing already has the industry groundwork and end-user trust to build upon in India.

  • tyler durden

    u r wrong when u say tat it will take several years for approval coz there are no big-ticket make in India project and Modi is eager to start some so obviously he would want it before 2019 and if he loses in ’19 election this project will be as good as dead . congress will order more rafales .

  • Abdul Rashid

    This is interesting. I thought LCA Tejas WAS the IAF’s single-engine MiG-21 replacement.

    • MT

      Surprisingly as mig21 replacement r supposed to be low end sub30mill$platform.

      Confusion prevail Bcoz of single engine mmrca.

      • Zebra7

        No need to get confused. RFI asked for the single engine fighter Plane is the common practice or in simple word the Information gattering process from various OEMs and their proposals and that includes HAL and ADA too. Lets clear various facts first. There is no LCA Mk-1A rather its the nomenclature given by the media, you can call it Tejas SOP-18 because the IAF have accepted the LCA tejas with the standard of SOP 18 which includes AESA MMR, MAWs, Refueling Probe, and Weapon integration and certification. Second the work on the R&D on the MK-2 version is still on, and anyone who dreams that its IAF version have been scrapped should be disappointed due to the reason that GOI had already ordered F-414 INS engine 99 number which are not for the show piece in the museum. We already know that Indian Navy is comitted with the 40 units of MK-2 of Naval/carrier variant so what will happen for the rest of the engines ??

        Another misconception is about the various fighter planes like F-16 block 70/72, Grippen NG, F-18 SH etc. For them pls read it slowly below.

        The rafale F3R choice was done to fulfill the role of the DPSA Deep Strike role, which IAF was using Jaguar for. And no one in India neither IAF or GOI is looking for the alternative of the Rafale F3R so no chance of F-18 SH which too have the carrier variants like Rafale aka Rafale-M. For F-16 which the LM is proposing is under the Make in India program, which includes the Line transfered to the India, that does not automatically means induction in the IAF, and for Indian Navy being a single engine Fighter Plane, F-16 too don’t have the central body Keel, thus lot of changes required for the carrier variants, and their is no plan of LM to do so either. Gripen NG proposed by SAAB is half baked, because most of its parts belong to the different OEMs such as Radars, avionics, engine, landing grears and SAAB don’t have the IPRs of all of these. Thus India have to make seperate deals with the various OEMs. Another problem with the Grippen NG is that its induction means the scrapping of the LCA program.

        So First what is the Requirement now.

        1. Air Superiority/Air Defence — Right now its role is being played by the MKI, but in future by FGFA and Super Sukhoi 30 MKI

        2. Multirole — Super Sukhoi MKI, MIG-29 UPG, Mirrage 2000 UPG, Rafale

        3. DPSA — Rafale F-3R

        4. Point defence — Mig 21-Bison (Phased by 2024) and replaced by LCA Tejas MK-1

        5. Tactical Interdiction — Mig -27 (retired), Mig 21 (Will be Phased from 2018)

        6. Ground Attack/ Reccee — MIG 27 (retired) — This role will be taken by the Jaguar Darin 3 and for Tactical recee it will be done by HALE/MALE UAVs.

        Now Problem is not with the High end fighter Planes rather with the Low Tier Planes due to the retirement of the MIG-23, Mig-27 due to spares issues and MIG-21 due to aeging and old technology.

        How India have Planned to address these issues.

        1. Give all its Role Specific fighter plane the Multi Role capability with MIG-29 UPG upgrade (Giving it Ground attack capability, longer range, Digital cockpit, and Internal Jammers), Mirrage 2000 UPG upgrade (Providing it Long range BVR, Electronic Warfare, Precission Guided attack capability), and Jaguar Darin 3 Upgrade (Providing Jaguar the SAR mapping AESA Radar, and Short Range IRST-T WVR Missile), and Super Sukhoi Upgrade Plan (Which gives BARS Aesa MMR, Internal Jammer, Air launch Brahmos, MAWS) This will make all the mentioned platform with the Multirole capability which could be used for the ground attack strike, and Air Defence Capability. Plus this will increase the life of the MIG-29, Jaguar, and Mirrage 2000H for another 15 years service.

        2. Preparation of the 5th Generation Warfare Capability — Now don’t mix the 5th Generation Air Warfare with the F-22 or F-35 type fighter plane because these includes various assets also from LO Radars to UHF Software based Radio to Integrated Battle field management system. For the Layman the 5th Gen Tech means to make all the equipment a eye and ears. For this the IAF already have started exploring and venturing that includes AFnet Grid, its own Satellite, Long range AWAACS, HALE and Male UAVs etc. Problem with the US fighter planes is that U.S would want its own Solution to be procured by the India, but India wants its own, therefore someone thinking of F-35 in IAF is balooney because India have already invested and counting on the FGFA/PAF FA program with the Russia, Long Range LTR radar from Israel and Phalcon AEW EC, Indegenous solutions such as SATCOM radios and Two wayTactical Data link etc. Thus for that it is highly advantageous to look for the indegenous solution aka LCA Tejas ,MCA program and AURA/Ghatak Program.

        3. Tactical Interdiction could be easily carried out by the HAL/BAE Combat Hawk, and LCA Trainer/ Lift with IRST on its nose and HALE/Tactical Drones. Being in MTCR club, India could easily purchase the tactical drones from the U.S.A now and with the Brahmos Block 3 the flexibilty to hit the enemy and hit the enemy hard increased the IAF muscle tremendously. HAL have also made a good progress with the Rudra Gunship, and LCH being complemented with the Imported Apache gunship from U.S.A.

        4. For the Ground attack Role the Jaguar armed with the CBU-105 precision weapon could hit and stop the enemy armoured thrust and for the ground attack deeper in enemy terroritery Jaguar armed with the AESA Radar and IRST with the Low level flight capabiltiy and the batteries of Brahmos for high value target and SOM Weapons like Glide Bombs and A2G Cruise missile on the high load carrying platform such as Rafale and SU-30 MKI could be used from within our own territories.

        5. However their are various Grey areas as well which is the depleting IAF Squardon — Aka MIG-21, which could not be fulfill with such high number of LCA Tejas production. So the Solution for the MIG-21 is the Combat Hawk by the HAL because India could not effort F-16, Gripen or the any other fighter Plane to replace mig 21 1 to 1 basis.

        Points important to be noted

        1. For the 2 front fight IAF now wants 55 Squardon.
        2. Cost of the LCA with the tools, equipment, infra needed to upgrade is the lowest, since it can use the infrastucture of the MIH-21 like shelters etc.
        3. LCA Tejas MK-1 have many grey areas which IAF have now realized such as low turnout time, low maintainance, low operational cost —> Which is serious and it is due to reason that though ADA have done a good job in designing the LCA Airframe, but they don’t have the experience of the HAL which under its belt have decades of experience in obtimising the Airframe and the maintainance and MRO and have more capabiltiy to desing the airframe that could have been easy to maintain and would be helpful to the User aka Airforce than Great product for the Lab or the Scientists.
        4. The Best possible solution is to give the FOC and the Certification process to the HAL for the LCA, and ADA should only concentrate with the Designing and R&D only.
        5. The Success to the Indian Aviation could not be completed without the sucess of the Kaveri Engine K-10 which I am optimistic that it would be massproduced by 2024. And this is the Key to the real success.

    • GhalibKabir

      Abdul, this actually makes sense. I was talking with some folks during my visit to Delhi this year and one point that came out was that, IAF might need 45 squadrons by 2027-8 as the view seems getting firmed up is that China theater in the east had been ignored for too long. With one squadron of LCA each year getting added, the goal of 700-800 top line aircraft might need another single engined fighter to make up the shortfall.

      It would have been nice to get the Mirage 2000 line open again for this requirement. The infra management will be very easy this way. My opinion is the French won’t play along. This leaves us the Gripen NG in effect or the heavily updated F-16V/IN version.

      My bet will be realistically on the Gripen NG followed by some fond hope that the French agree to reopen the Mirage 2000 line. both offer some chance for engine development/radar technology acquisition. The Gripen NG with Leonardo’s new ECM and the Meteor will be a good beast… the dicey thing is will the Americans allow the GE 414/Volvo RM 12 and other US made/derived parts at the cost of a Lockheed bid to plonk the F-16 line in India.

      Modi/Parrikar might decide soon to ensure production start by end 2019….

      • Smoking a Tejas

        But unless the replacement is the Rafale or the M2k, the logistics are going to be a nightmare. How is the IAF going to handle 6 platforms simultaneously when its already got its hands full with existing maintenance requirements.

      • Abdul Rashid

        Ghalib, I see. Both the Tejas and another, as yet unselected platform are to be replacement for IAF’s MiG-21 fleet. Would it not be more cost-effective to ramp up the production of Tejas to meet the demand? Also, as Smoking points out, the addition of yet another platform further complicates maintenance requirements.

        Gripen or F-16? I think India does have the option to go for either to meet their requirements. The Americans still gain from the Gripen sale albeit less than they would from the F-16.

        On a personal note – if I was making the selection, as well as weighing up the platforms I would also be thinking Swedes or Americans? Having had dealings with both the Americans and the Scandinavians (both great people!), I’d incline towards the Swedes. Much less complications at the onset and further down the line! LOL!

        • GhalibKabir

          That Is a valid point. The Tejas step up is certainly the best thing to do. i did hear some crazy stuff about Israel being not so forthcoming in terms of help with the aesa despite the 201 el/m 2052 radar purchase and also other weapons systems co dev with them seems to be very expensive and hence the tejas cannot be ramped up effectively in numbers and in terms of role. It would be a nice point defense fighter but would still lack the Gripen NG’s versatility. I find this hard to believe but if an effective Mark 2 tejas won’t be ready by 2023-4 then that is a dangerous position to be in.

          Another ‘chidiya’ told that the IN is taken in by the ‘Sea Gripen’ concept for the INS Vishal while the IAF seems to be curiously looking at Gripen E – Tejas Mk 2 as a shared platform besides the additional role a future Gripen ‘Growler’ and Gripen UCAV might entail. The Gripen E will then replace the MiG 27 as well as SAAB has offered to configure a version like mig 27… I was truly lost by this time but there is more…

          All of this is besides the standing SAAB offer on engine improvements on the Mk 1A Tejas and production line promise in India assuming 100 odd jets get ordered.

          I find this incredulous as it seems to suggest SAAB is being very generous while there are apparently serious issues with Elta and Dassault in terms of ToT. To me something smells bad here… It will be nice to hear somebody else tell a more credible story…. Phew!…. Btw agree 100% with Smoking a Tejas.

  • SS_IND

    India will most likely choose Gripen E as it is the fighter which has the latest aerodynamics, best offer with complete production and TOT, Best for cost and uses the same engine as the Tejas Mark -1A would use (GE 414). Also SAAB has already made it clear they are just gonna setup a plant but also a complete development facility so all upgrades and technology development happens in India. SAAB is also very interested in the development of Tejas Mark-II. The Gripen E also provides India with the latest communication network in airforce.

    The deal for F-16 depends on the upgrades done by Lockheed Martin for F-16 Block 70. And the price per aircraft. Also the govt to govt negotiations. But most likely the IAF wont choose the F-16 as used by adversary Pakistan. Further buyers for the new F-16 are reducing with Bahrain. Whereas the Gripen E has seen an increase in buyers and if India produces it would be a cost effective 4.5 gen fighter for other countries like ASEAN and Gulf.

  • GhalibKabir

    I ‘dislike’ too good to be true stories, but another angle seems to be in play too.

    If the Gripen ‘E’ is to be selected then it will need a level of push and commitment from Modi/Parrikar that would be much higher than the Rafale G2G. It seems when Arup Raha, the
    ACM IAF visited SAAB in Sweden this year, all stops were apparently pulled out with the SAAB top brass making it clear to the Swedish PM and DM that without a massive push on the G2G level, too many spoilers ranging from F-16 led arm twisting to Russians offering their updated/better supported MiG-29 UPG, KUB mix for air/sea roles would screw Sweden easily.

    It was told apparently that time is of the essence to conclude a quick deal with substantial ‘real’ ToT ensuring two lines, one in Sweden newly established Gripen ‘E’ line to manufacture initial lot, while another line started in India with a mix of assembling imported units to later newer units having parts made by local industry concurrently helped by SAAB. All the while SAAB helps beef up the Tejas to increase commonalities in terms of infra thereby leading to a positive cycle of the Sea Gripen and Gripen UCAV becoming part of the IN while Gripen EW entered the IAF to complement the Interceptor (MiG-21 replacement) and ground fight versions of the ‘E (MiG-27 replacement)’.

    The end game seems to be better infra management on the ground while absorbing tech and gaining a new platform that ‘co-works’ with the Tejas seamlessly.

    PS: Apparently SAAB is even saying they will modify the Sea Gripen enough to take off from the STOBAR Carriers Vikramaditya and Vikrant.

    Count me completely skeptical on this one…

  • GhalibKabir

    and the sting in the tail, the aircraft mix seems to be 120 Tejas incl. the Mark 2 and this is where the word incredulous gains value, a 200 Gripen ‘E’ fleet (yes you read it right–> 200) with Lifecycle cost in excess of US$ 25 billion…

  • Omar Dar

    What’s the point of having higher performance if the program itself is delayed by atleast a decade and no planes are available? The JF-17 might have a lower performance but we have already inducted almost 100 jets. The Tejas program has 3 prototypes which have limited flight clearances only.

    • MT

      There are 8tejas under production to be delivered mid July. 4 are in final assembly nd 4on rig. tejas had recently seen testing with ifr probe and Israeli bvraam derby missile.

      Tejas foc version far ahead of jf17 block 2. Hal Invested in assembly line from 2015.
      Most manufacturing work outsourced to local Indian company.
      There ll be 20 new tejas by 2020 and area version mk1a ll be available for manufacturing since 2020.

      So most of tejas inducted in iaf will have aesa

  • Omar Dar

    You forget about another major difference. The Tejas program is still in a testing phase and only 3 prototypes have been delivered. The JF-17 on the other hand is in service.

    • MT

      Those Ioc tejas are far ahead of ur block 1. And ahead of block 2 in some aspects like avionics; radar,helmet minuted display;bvraam; engine; composite and Thurst to weight ratio + highly unstable platform which makes it more agile than jf

  • Omar Dar

    The IAF might has been flying 7-8 different types for a long time but logistics concepts dictate that the numbers of types should ideally be minimised.

  • MT

    You seriously have no clue on iaf plans

    iaf has no political affiliation with any party and its them calling shot after inability to procure rafale in large nos due to high cost.
    rafale was brought taking cheen into consideration so no questions abt pak which is struggling with low end jf thunder tech and is unable to procure block52.

    indian drive to make rafale inhouse was curbed by high cost hence so called mig21 replacement tender for western licensed production is rehash of old MMRCA with single engine next to rafale/euro fighter/Su35 class of aircraft.

    Govt have placed order for more than 150 tejas,if we include naval versions as well. There is plan to add another production line once it has aesa mk1a version tested.

    Some people are such proud of inducting JF-17 before Tejas. JF-17 in the eyes of IAF is unfinished and primitive. An aircraft with no HMD/S,cannot fire HOBS, engine is not FADEC, inferior FBW system and no provisions for OBOGS is nothing but a dead duck. Tejas desipte having all of these capabilities is being criticised.
    There ll very few of you comparing Tejas with jf once it’s aesa version goes into production by 2020 & the admin knows here that Tejas mk1a ll be at least 1block ahead of jf7 block 3.

  • MT

    1. Pak will have 150 JF17 with poor radar, substard avionics, poor engine which guzzles fuel & probably leave some trace of white smoke making it big target on radar bleep

    2. 50+ JF1 block 1 doesnt have BVR while next 50 of block 2 has partial BVR cabability

    3. None of Block1,2 have litening pods.AS pak is looking for 2nd gen litening pods from Turkey; Tejas IOC/SP version have 3rd gen ISraeli litening pods

    4. No Helmet mounted display & cueing system. So u have bad radar with 75-85 KM range for RCS of 5 Meter square and its further ineffecitve without a HMDS

    5. Nill composite usage

    6. Wind loading of Tejas is 60% Less than JF17– as its calculated by diving the mass/area making is far more maneuverable which can seen from 200 meter turn shown by Tejas in bahrain airshow

    Notes: These are serious problem for Jf17 which will require a decade to fix

    I can say it with high probability that JF17 block3 wouldn’t sustain an AESA radar until you upscale with better engine.
    Let me remind you that new engine integration is 4-5 yrs of work

    Most experts in this field is not convinced of Pak JF17 capability. Its turn rate is way slower than Tejas. Do remind you that,Indian experts dont fake figures and fuzz fake radius combat of 2500 KM:)

    http://thebetacoefficient.blogspot.in/2015/04/lca-tejas-versus-f-16-in-combat-part-i.html

    7. Tejas has STR advantage over Viper C/D at all speeds and Viper A/B at above mach 0.65 mach
    JF17 is nowhere comparable to tejas in most features
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-StoaQaxOhus/VUQMTNWVKSI/AAAAAAAABJI/EDqCD2Lei08/s1600/LCA_18.png

  • amar
  • GhalibKabir

    I am hearing a lot of contradictory stuff. Some are well known facts that the IAF and HAL have not been dedicated to the Tejas(it is a open secret Tejas has been all but damaged by internal politics). Given that the biggest issue for India is the Engine (AESA radar can be made with Israeli Help ala ELTA 2052fying the local radar Uttam), the swedish offer based on unproven Raven radar and dependence on US for engines it seems might swing the deal to the F-16 based on the GE 110, with the Northrop SABR and Israeli avionics making a kinda acceptable F-16 Blk 70 types. In exchange apparently the US would allow GE to make the 110, 404 and 414 in India… either way no GaN radar tech etc from either SAAB or Northrop Grumman for India…

    It seems the Tejas 2 would be fully naval only thereby leaving Indian Air force with 120 Tejas Mk 1As, 40 extra Su-30 MKIs, 36 Rafales and 130-150 F-16s to cover the retiring MiG 21, 27 and Jaguars. as 300 MiG 21,27 and Jags retire, the Mk1A/F-16/MKI etc mix is supposed to add 325 odd aircraft. This hopefully is helped by 50-100 PAK/FA FGFA getting added by 2026-7 to leave the IAF with 36-40 squadrons..

    the head scratcher is then what will Safran do with the Kaveri? What about the Gripen E offer in terms of a Britecloud ECM, new IRST, Meteor, Scalp NG integration etc…

    Suddenly getting India’s private sector to cooperate with ADA/HAL and go full blast on the Tejas 2 is looking more and more attractive…. F-16 in IAF colors? I hope not……

  • MT

    akash nag agni are among products inducted something your country can’t research nd develop in next 3 decades. Name me 6 countries who can make full tanks.
    for india arjun project is mean to learn and produce most of indigenous tank subsystem including munitions.

    Akash may have faults as it lacks seeker uses high signature pesa radar nd only launch at rest.But they were 1st things to b developed nd manufactured locally.
    Since u bring agni in discussions so u should know that indian space program is among top 5 nation’s so there is no way agni or k series missiles are ordinary products even compared from western standards

    india is doing local r&d development nd getting the best from market to develop its industries.

    why nt read article from quwa on Lca vs jf17.
    lca is by far superior to F16 in STR nd ITR performance so stop believing that tejas is non capable aircraft just bcoz it has been delayed in final operational clearance.
    name me any industry where pak is not 2-3decades behind india.

    india has 3rd largest railway network nd 3rd largest road ways n have at least 5metro network functional with 10 under development.
    India doesn’t beg funds from other countries to build simple infrastructure nor does it import thermal hydel turbine wind turbines nd nuclear plant from russia as it can produce them inhouse

  • MT

    1.india adds 20000 Mw to its grid yearly more than total power production of Pak

    2. Indian space program is pretty much top notch.GSlv can take 4tons to GTO nd semicryogenic engine being manufactured ll push India into heavy lift satellite SlV

    3. Indian defence Public sector didn’t build quality product but with rise of pvt sector it’s improving.

    India ll very much be self sustainable bcoz of rise in local r&d esp in area’s of aeronautics over next decades
    India is using import offset policy and partnerships with USA to grab as much technologies as possible.

    40yrs ago India couldn’t build thermal plant,hydro turbine,locomotive,vehicle engine,steel plant,wind turbine, civil nuclear reactor but it has been making them for last2decades.

    Defence industry is the final stage for industrialization.

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