Combat helicopters, jets & artillery guns in India’s ₹2.23L crore defence push
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew in LCA, with his sortie being seen as a significant endorsement of the indigenous fighter programme
New Delhi: In a significant boost to the country’s self-reliance drive and the military’s combat readiness, India on Thursday gave its go-ahead to major projects worth Rs.2.23 lakh crore, including the purchase of more light combat aircraft (LCA), light combat helicopters (LCH), artillery guns and anti-ship missiles, and the upgrade of Sukhoi-30 fighters.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Union defence minister Rajnath Singh, accorded its acceptance of necessity (AoN) to the capital acquisition projects which are critical to enhance the capabilities of the three services, the defence ministry said in a statement. AoN by the council is the first step towards buying weapons and systems under India’s procurement rules.
“Acquisition worth Rs.2.20 lakh crore will be sourced from domestic industries. This will give a substantial boost to the Indian defence industry towards achieving the goal of ‘Aatmanirbharta,” it said.
The projects greenlit by the government include the purchase of 97 more LCA Mk-1As at an estimated cost of Rs.67,000 crore and the modernisation of 84 Sukhoi-30s for Rs.65,000 crore, officials aware of the military’s modernisation said. DAC also approved the procurement of 156 LCHs for the Air Force and Army, 400 towed gun systems and medium-range anti-ship missiles, the officials said.
The approval for additional LCA Mk-1As comes almost three years after the defence ministry placed an order worth Rs.48,000 crore with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 83 such aircraft. The first Mk-1A will be delivered to IAF in February 2024 and the last of the 83 jets by 2028. HAL is preparing to activate a new production line in Nashik for LCA Mk-1A to meet IAF’s growing requirements for fighter jets.
HAL can build 16 LCA Mk-1As every year in Bengaluru, and the Nashik line will help the state-run plane-maker ramp up production to a total of 24 jets.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew in LCA, with his sortie being seen as a significant endorsement of the indigenous fighter programme. The aircraft is set to emerge as the cornerstone of IAF’s combat power in the coming decade and beyond.
IAF, the world’s fourth largest air force, is expected to operate around 350 LCAs (Mk-1, Mk-1A and Mk-2 versions).
HAL has so far manufactured 15 limited series production LCHs, and now, with the fresh order in sight, series production will begin. It hopes to complete the order within six years of the contract being awarded.
The Sukhoi-30 upgrade, also to be carried out by HAL, will involve equipping the Russian-origin fighters with the indigenous Uttam active electronically scanned array radar, modern electronic warfare suites, weapon control systems and avionics, and new weapons.
Referring to LCA Mk-1A, LCH and the Sukhoi-30 projects, the statement said that while the procurement of this equipment will provide enormous strength to IAF, it will also take indigenous capabilities to newer heights. “It will reduce dependence on foreign original equipment manufacturers substantially.”
“We anticipated these projects and began laying the groundwork two to three years ago. The primary thing was capacity planning. The capacities we have created and are creating will become national assets for future programmes,” HAL chief CB Ananthakrishnan said in an interview with HT in October.
Some other proposals approved by DAC include anti-tank munitions and modern equipment for T-90 tanks.
On the proposal for new artillery guns, the statement said, “To replace the Indian field gun, which has completed its service life, AoN for state-of-the-art towed gun systems has been granted. It will become the mainstay of the artillery forces of the Indian Army.”
IAF will soon begin deploying LCA at forward air bases in the Western sector to bolster its combat readiness against Pakistan and fill the gap left by the gradual phasing out of the Soviet-era MiG-21 fighters.
On October 4, HAL handed over the first trainer version of LCA Mk-1 to IAF Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari in Bengaluru, with the twin seater set to fill a key training role and double as a fighter if needed.
The aircraft is part of an earlier order for 40 Mk-1 jets in the initial operational clearance (IOC) and the more advanced final operational clearance (FOC) configurations --- the first variants of LCA. Of the 40 Mk-1s, IAF has inducted 32 single-seater jets and raised two squadrons. Seven more twin-seater aircraft will be delivered to IAF by March 2024.
The newer variants, Mk-1A and the under-development Mk-2 will come with significantly improved features and technologies over the Mk-1 aircraft.
IAF’s leadership has firmly backed the LCA programme. In a recent review, Chaudhari described the fighter aircraft as the flag-bearer of IAF’s efforts towards indigenisation of its combat fleet.
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