Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Indo-French upgrade deal for Mirage-2000 fighters, project cost 15k cr

NEW DELHI: India will ink the upgrade deal for Mirage-2000 fighters with France in the not too distant future but questions continue to be raised about the “exorbitant” cost of upgrading the 52 French-origin jets in IAF’s combat fleet.

While the exact contours of the Mirage mid-life upgrade deal will be decided only after the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security , sources said the overall project cost was likely to ultimately touch almost Rs 15,000 crore.

This will include the Rs 3,000 crore or so share of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which will upgrade bulk of the fighters under transfer of technology from French companies after the first four to six are “souped up” in France.

A joint statement issued after talks between PM Manmohan Singh and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday said “discussions” on the Mirage upgrade “are expected to be finalized soon” .

India and France are also working towards “launching” the co-production of shortrange surface-to-air missile system called ‘Maitri’ but all eyes are fixed on the Mirage upgrade. It has been stuck in hard-nosed negotiations for the last few years because the package offered by French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator ) and MBDA (missile supplier) was around 30% higher than what India was ready to pay initially.

“But the project cost has not exceeded our planned estimates . The Mirage-2000 has had a very good track record in IAF. After the upgrade, we will get a very capable, stateof-the-art fighter, which will serve for another 15-20 years,” said a senior officer.

The fact, however, remains that if the Rs 15,000 crore figure is taken as the entire project cost, then the upgraded Mirage-2000 s will come for Rs 288 crore each, which is enough to buy spanking new fighters. Moreover, the ongoing upgrade of IAF’s 63 MiG-29 s, under a deal inked with Russia in March 2008, came for just $964 million.

MoD and IAF, however, say the Mirage upgrade’s scope is much bigger and sophisticated than the MiG-29 one. Under it, the multi-role fighters will get new avionics, radars, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays , electronic warfare suites, jam-proof communication with data links, weapon delivery and precision-targeting systems, including the all-weather , fire-and-forget MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) systems.

Having first inducted 40 Mirages in the mid-1980 s, India procured over 20 more in later years. With a depleting number of fighter squadrons (each has 16 to 18 jets), down to just 32 from a ‘sanctioned strength’ of 39.5, IAF is going for a mix of upgrades and new inductions like Sukhoi-30 MKIs to maintain its combat readiness.

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