Cabinet clears missile deal
India has cleared the Rs 6,600 crore acquisition of 490 French advanced missile systems to arm the Mirage-2000 fighter jets, which are being upgraded under a separate Rs 10,947 crore programme finalized in July, 2010. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared the contract for the fire-and-forget MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) with French armament major MBDA on Wednesday. Sources say another major defence deal, the acquisition of 75 Swiss turboprop aircraft to train IAF rookie pilots for over Rs 3,000 crore, is likely to be cleared next week. IAF wants to induct the 75 Pilatus PC-7 basic trainers by 2013-14 since its 114 piston-engine HPT-32 aircraft have been grounded since August,2009 due to repeated engine failures, leading to training of pilots being truncated. The overall Mirage upgrade project cost will cross Rs 20,000 crore, and it will take over a decade to be completed. This has led to some criticism that it would probably have been better to go in for new fighters. Down to just 33-34 fighter squadrons (each has 16 to 18 jets) from a ‘sanctioned strength’ of 39.5, IAF is going for a mix of new inductions and upgrades to retain its operational readiness even as it phases out older MiG variants. Besides, India plans to induct 250-300 stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft co-developed with Russia from 2020 onwards, in what will be its biggest-ever defence project at around $ 35 billion.