In a bid to maintain force levels and enhance firepower, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is pushing its plans to upgrade the capabilities of the Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft by equipping them with new engines under a deal worth over Rs 5,000 crore, which has been stuck for more than six years now.
The deal would be crucial for the IAF to maintain its standards in the coming decade as the squadron strength would be going down due to indecision by the UPA from 2004-2014 in procuring any fighter plane for the service.
The IAF’s sanctioned strength of fighter aircraft squadrons is 42, but it has been operating at a much lower strength due to delays in acquisition of replacements for MiG 21s and delays in deciding on the new fleet of multirole combat aircraft.
It has 32 squadrons at present. The IAF has five squadrons of Jaguar planes, which have to be maintained by equipping them with new engines from American firm Honeywell to maintain the present force-levels.
“The stuck project is being revived and pushed by the Air Force. A number of sticky issues with Honeywell have been sorted out and it is expected that there will be some movement forward in the deal in the coming times,” a senior government official said.
As per the programme, the Indian Air Force will re-engine around 100 of its Jaguar planes deployed in Jamnagar, Gorakhpur and Ambala with Honeywell power plants.
The Jaguars are currently powered by Rolls-Royce Adour 804/811 engines which are to be replaced with Honeywell’s F-125N engine. The new engines are supposed to provide almost 1.5 times the power the existing engines provide to the aircraft.
On December 19, 2011, the UPA government had stated in the Parliament that the Jaguar upgrade would be completed by December 2017, but that deadline expired on Sunday and still, no decision could be taken on the issue.
IAF officials said though the planes are almost three decades old, but there is still plenty of life left in them and they will help India maintain force levels in critical times.
As per IAF projections, it would have air superior Su-30MKI as its main work horse in the coming years. The Force will have 13 squadrons of these planes while it would be retiring its MiG 21s and Mig 27s in the next few years.
“If upgraded and re-engined, the Jaguar can serve as a potent fighter while the government can go on deciding on new aircraft to be procured for the air force,” a source said.
Recently, MoS for defence Subhash Bhamre said in the Parliament, “The IAF will have 32 fighter squadrons and 39 helicopter units by 2020.” The Air Force currently possesses 32 squadrons but, as the minister put it, “Three squadrons of MiG-21 aircraft will be phased out by 2020.”