NEW DELHI — The Indian Air Force has launched a new drive to revamp its 118 Jaguar ground attack fighters with new engines, airframes and spares from overseas grounded fighters.
The effort would also speed up the upgrade with new avionics, communication, active electronically scanned array radars and airborne weapon systems.
“The drive is a part of new plan that calls for optimal utilization of funds to ramp up the existing Jaguar fighters fleet to give new operational life for another 20 years,” a senior Ministry of defence official said. The effort calls for spending as much as $3 billion in the next five years, he noted.
A senior service official said the IAF is speeding up sourcing old Jaguar fighters from overseas that would be dismantled later to use airframes, engines and other spares parts.
“By end of this year, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the nodal agency to carry out the Jaguar fighters modernization, will receive old Jaguar aircraft from France and Oman for free as a ‘gift’ and at a throwaway price from United Kingdom,” the official said.
Additional Jaguars from other countries are being procured to ensure that common spare parts are available for the next 15 years or so, said another IAF official. The services currently face resource challenges in terms of spares, because both HAL and the original equipment manufacturer BAE Systems have stopped Jaguar production and have closed the assembly lines.
In addition, the MoD is finalizing a direct purchase of F-125IN engines from Honeywell in the U.S. to be installed in the Jaguar fleet. HAL will buy 200 F-125IN engines off the shelf from Honeywell at a cost of $5 million per piece for 80 Jaguar fighters. Of these, 160 engines will be integrated with 80 Jaguar fighters, and the remaining 40 engines will be kept for reserve.
Currently, the IAF Jaguar fleet is powered by Adour Mk811 engines, made by the British firm Rolls-Royce.
A limited global tender was floated by HAL in 2011 to acquire high-thrust engines for the Jaguar fighter fleet, and only two companies — Honeywell and Rolls-Royce — responded. The tender was withdrawn last year when Rolls-Royce withdrew from the bidding.
Daljit Singh, a defense analyst retired IAF air marshal, noted that "installation of a new engine requires major installation work, which has made the upgrade plan quite complicated. It appears that the upgrade plan has been made too ambitious, contributing to the delay in implementation.“
Singh said improved strike capability could actually be more beneficial, but the modification of 60 twin-seat Jaguar fighters, termed as the upgraded Jaguar DARIN-III program, is going at a very slow pace by HAL. Launched in 2011, HAL has only delivered six upgraded prototypes after obtaining initial operation clearance in November 2016 at a cost of $6 million per unit.
Under the new upgrade plan, HAL is also mounting active electronically scanned array EL/M-2052 radar from Elta of Israel, which will provide capability to simultaneously track enemy fighters, guide missiles, and jam enemy communications and radar. In addition, upgraded DARIN-III Jaguar fighters will be capable to launch AGM-88 HARM missiles and CBU-105 sensor-fuzed weapons. HAL has built 120 Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft under technology transfer from BAE Systems.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.