(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to acquire 24 second-hand Mirage 2000 fighters, made by Dassault Aviation, in an attempt to strengthen its ageing fleet of the fourth-generation fighters and also secure parts for its two existing squadrons of the aircraft, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. IAF has initialled a contract worth 27 million euros to buy the fighters, eight of which are in ready-to-fly condition, the people cited above added. That works out to a per-aircraft acquisition cost of 1.125 million euros. The people cited above said the aircraft will soon be shipped to India in containers.
IAF’s 35-year old Mirage fleet, which performed exceptionally during the 2019 Balakot operation, is undergoing a mid-life upgrade, the people said – with the trigger for the acquisition of the second-hand aircraft being the immediate need for 300 critical spares. The aircraft is becoming obsolete in France, they added, and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduaria decided to go in for the purchase.
Out of the 24 fighters, 13 are in complete condition with engine and airframe intact with eight of them (nearly half a squadron) ready to fly after servicing. The remaining 11 fighters are partially complete but with fuel tanks and ejection seats, which will be scavenged to secure parts for IAF’s two existing squadrons of the fighter
IAF purchased around 50 fourth-generation Mirage 2000 C and B fighters way back in 1985 with a maintenance contract that expired in 2005. It signed another contract in 2015-2016 with the French original equipment manufacturer.
The purchase highlights the importance of shifting spare parts and engine supply chains to India for future acquisitions as fighters abroad reach obsolescence much faster than in India. Until the Narendra Modi government took the decision of acquiring the 4.5 generation Rafale fighters (also from Dassault), the Mirage 2000 was India’s front-line fighter, a position it has held since the Kargil war. The new Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign should ensure that original equipment and spares are now manufactured in India so that there is no shortage of spares till the time the fighter is decommissioned, the people cited above said.
The other issue that flows out of this last-minute acquisition is that the IAF and the Indian Navy should plan their fighter acquisition so that there is synergy between the two forces and coherence is maintained in the supply of spare parts, experts said. It also points to the need for the defence ministry to accelerate decisions on replenishing the country’s fighter fleet, especially because China has already moved to fifth-generation fighters and armed drones.