A Dassault Rafale fighter jet
Representational imageReuters

India's air force capability will go down if it does not acquire French fighter jet Rafale by 2017 said the Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force (IAF) on Friday during a press conference.

The concern was expressed in the wake of delay in signing the agreement to buy 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for India for $20 billion. "If the MMRCA deal isn't signed, there will be a rapid decline in fighter aircraft numbers between 2017 and 2022. It is imperative that the deal is signed quickly," India Today quoted Browne.

India announced that it would buy Dassualt Aviation's Rafale fighter jet in January 2012. Since the announcement, the Chief of Air Staff was hopeful about the MMRCA programme receiving the official sanction by end of 2013. For the time, he has expressed his concern in a public forum, but did not mention a time-frame for signing the contract.

"The authorisation is for 42 squadrons of fighter aircraft. Presently, we have much less than that. In the 12th and 13th Plan (2012-2022), we have to maintain a certain Force level because that is where the maximum draw down is taking place. So, we lose a number of squadrons in these two plan periods," said Browne during the conference, reported  The Hindu.

The decision to go for the MMRCA came due to delay in development of India's own Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, which, going by original plans, was to be ready for commercial production by 2000. India made interim plan of buying medium combat jets to fill the gap between Sukhoi-30 and LCA.

The IAF projected a requirement for 126 fighter jets in 2001, which saw bidding of six leading aviation firms from US, Europe and Russia. Dassault Aviation's Rafale from France, Eurofighter GmbH's Typhoon, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet from US, Lockheed Martin's F-16IN Super Viper from US, MiG-35 from Russia and Saab Gripens' JAS 39 Gripen from Sweden were in race to bag India's biggest defence deal.

Currently, Mirage 2000, Sukhoi-30, MiG and Jagaur aircraft form the IAF's fighter jet fleet.