Home Defence Dassault, Boeing and Saab — the front-runners for IAF’s 114 fighter jet...

Dassault, Boeing and Saab — the front-runners for IAF’s 114 fighter jet contract

Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s F/A-18 and Saab’s Gripen lead the pack, while the Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Eurofighter Typhoon are trailing.

Snehesh Alex Philip
File photo of Dassault Mirage 2000 | Commons

New Delhi: France’s Dassault Aviation, American firm Boeing and Swedish Saab are the front-runners for the Indian Air Force’s multi-billion dollar contract for 114 fighter jets. However, the Russians are still in contention with two aircraft, as is US manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Top sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that the main competition is between the Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s F/A-18 and the Saab Gripen, even though a total of seven aircraft are vying for the mega deal.

The IAF has finalised the Air Staff Quality Requirements (ASQR) for the fighter programme and has moved the file for getting the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) from the Ministry of Defence.

Following this, the IAF will come out with an Expression of Interest (EOI) and finally the Request for Proposal (RFP).

“With the elections round the corner, the IAF expects to get the AON immediately once the new government is sworn in. The IAF expects the EOI to be issued by the second quarter of this year and the RFP by the last quarter,” a top source said.

However, industry sources feel this is a tall order in terms of time tables.

Restarting the process

The IAF had last year issued a Request for Information (RFI) after its previous bid to procure 126 fighter jets was scrapped, following the deal for 36 Rafales in fly-away condition.

A total of seven companies had responded to the RFI, including two companies each from the US and Russia.

Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70, Dassault’s Rafale F3R, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen E, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi Corporation’s Su-35 were the ones who responded.

Also read: Sweden’s Saab alleges India bent the rules for Russian firm to win missile contract

How the contenders fare

Sources said that the Rafale is highly priced but the since the one-time payment for India-specific enhancements has already been made, any future Rafales bought will be cheaper.

The IAF, which had shortlisted the Rafale in 2012 under the now-scrapped tender for 126 fighters, is keen on more of the same kind.

Infographic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint

Another serious contender is Saab’s Gripen, which is a single-engine fighter. Following the decision to buy 36 Rafale fighters, the IAF had moved a proposal to buy a single-engine fighter, and the Gripen was the front runner. However, the government, keeping in view that the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas is already in the making, opened the contract to both single and twin-engine aircraft.

Boeing’s F/A-18, meanwhile, is also in the race for a naval project. Sources said if at all a decision is to be made to buy an American fighter, then it would be the F/A-18, not the F-16.

Incidentally, Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-16, has offered what it calls a new aircraft F-21. However, IAF sources say it is nothing but re-branding of the F-16 with a few additional features.

There has been much unease in the IAF about using an F-16 because the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been operating them for years. In the air battle on 27 February, the PAF had used the F-16 against India, one of which 16 was shot down by the vintage MiG-21 Bison of the IAF.

Talking about the two Russian aircraft, MiG-35 and Su-35, sources said that the force is actually looking for a Western fighter since the Su-30MKI is already in use with the IAF.

The issues that go against the Russians are lower serviceability ratio and size. The IAF had to create special hangars for the Su-30MKI because it was bigger than other aircraft in use with the force. The serviceability ratio of a SU-30MKI still stands at just 58 per cent, meaning that out of 100 aircraft, only 58 are available for flying at any given time. The rest are in service or down due to a lack of spare parts.

Things that go in favour of the Russians include the fact that the price of both the MiG-35 and the Su-35 will be cheaper than the rest, as well as the fact that Russia has remained a strong ally of India and has a huge equity in the Indian system. The biggest of all factors in their favour is that the production facility of Russian aircraft is already in India, courtesy HAL, which manufactures the Su-30MKI.

As far as the Eurofighter Typhoon is concerned, the biggest factor that going against it is the multi-national nature of its ownership — Eurofighter comes under Airbus and is jointly owned by Germany, Italy, the UK, France and Spain. Sources said this was “problematic”.

Also read: Will be more than happy to supply more Rafale jets to India: Dassault CEO

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.


  1. acc.. to me we should go with 2 options
    1st is more dassalt rafale.
    2nd is mig-35.
    becoz I think US made F-16 jets are being used by PAK and all jets of locheed martin have same technology.
    Mig-35 is best jet of Mig series and se also use Mig-21,27,29 so se are familier with this technology.

  2. Its better to purchase India should make better their own jets.
    India should go for US technology rather than another.

  3. According to me what ever the IAF selects , they select on their requirements, if they consider Russian jets , they are good but service n lack of spare parts Eurofighter Typhoon if they go , its a multi national like UK France has produced too much restrictions using jets, , F18 super hornet its American jet n America is not s good ally to India as compared to Russia, Some of them are good compared to DASSAULT RAFFALE but restrictions n unavailability is the concern ,no doubt India will select the jet which will fulfill its requirements during needy time Best of luck.

  4. Russia is our most reliable and time-tested partner who has interest for Indian welfares, while USA is the worst partner to be allied and anything should be bought from them. IAF should consider either mig 35s or eurofighter typhoon or dassault Rafale.

  5. With a project cost of only approx. 400 Cr. India successfully landed Mangal Yan on Mars – a huge technological achievement.
    We can do wonders in space – but we are failiure in civil & defence aviation sector.
    Its a pity we are paying almost 1600 Cr. for a 15 mtr. long aircraft. Remember Mangal Yan was not made in assembly line as Rafale. Recently heard US Govt ordered 78 F18s for $4 bn & read among related comments that French Govt paid $2 bn for 28 Rafale & we are patting our backs for having paid $8 bn for 36 Rafale. Its for our decision makers to justify.

  6. But what about TEJAS…Wasn’t TEJAS supposed to fill the vacuum…if that is not the case ,then immediate stop on its development should be put because we can’t waste anymore govt money . It’s like a double whammy…u spend billions of rupees in fighter aircraft manufacture for 30 long years & then purchase the same from outside for billions of dollars…isn’t anyone accountable for such a huge loss to the govt exchequer/ tax payers money…sad

  7. Proper mix is required. I don’t think we need Rafales in such large numbers. We also have Tejas which fulfill our demand for numbers.. I think we should go with with SU-35, which will not be costly and one more advantage – the past track record of our politicians shows that in respect of Russian purchases there are no controversies and scam allegations. For example S-400 Triumf missile system costing around Rs.40000 crore ( compares well with Rs.59000 crore Rafale deal) was also under Inter Governmental Agreement route and no sovereign guarantee, no offset arrangement, no controversy, no scam allegations !!! We may top this with another buy of 36 Rafales, which are very good for adopting offensive strategies.

  8. current governance failed during its full tenure to buy select combat aircraft as was required by IAF while it is vocalising about national security at the fag end of political tenure. However, required by IAF quality combat aircrafts must be soon procured by ensuing govt.,to overcome existing less useful wintage units.

  9. I think SAAB gripen will be finalised . It has a very good reason ” adani group partnership ” . This is enough for contract rest are formalities .

  10. I believe we should choose Russian aircrafts ,because their prices are less compared to others with good built in quality and technology and they are good in providing aircrafts in large numbers and moreover India and Russia had a strong strategic ,milatary,economic and diplomatic relationships. Other countries use india only for their economical benefits

  11. But didnt Shri Shri Modiji made the deal of the century and bought the “36” Rafaels that the Air Force needed ? I think Shekhar Gupta ji commended him for this deal even, all in “National Interest”, and I was very happy to see that.
    So now you mean that`s not enough? Then why exactly did he buy 36 Jets for? Who exactly asked for 36?

    My guess – IAF didnt actually need the 126 jets earlier they had asked for during UPA, It was someone`s joke maybe. They actually needed only 36, which ofcourse only Shri Shri Modiiji and Shekhar could clearly understand, all in National Interest. And now this is second season of the old joke that IAF is out again shopping for Jets. Or maybe in reality they need 12 or 14 more, which Shri Shri Moodiji will finalise on his next trip to Paris in 2020, when he goes there with a business delegation. Wah Modiji and Shekharji Wah!

    Right time to buy with technology transfer agreement and getting help with the existing difficulties in other projects .

    When the world is running out of FUNDS …just bargain like a baniyaa .

  13. I dont think USA is dying this time to upgrade Indian Airforce. The superiority of their airforce and technology is well known and they are the pioneers in both the electronics and avionics. Also the mass product capabilities that US has is unmatched. French historically never had any potent air force. This Rafel is well known for its high operating cost, heavy airframe and is known as a gas guzzler. US companies are on a verge of getting some very large contracts from other nations too. India is a friendly nation that’s why US is offering the techs that is usually banned for sale outside. Now, I don’t think any deal will be possible in near future, it’ll impact economic relationships between two countries also. We should not forget that it’s the US based firms that are employing millions of I So and directly and indirectly. It’s all business. If they are giving money to support Indian household economy, they’ll expect from US also to support their defence industry. Also, OAF requires aircrafts in large numbers, and very quickly. Rafel doesn’t have the mass production capabilities. Only USA and Russians are good in providing aircrafts in large numbers. This Rafel is a scam by this government. French purchased 28 upgraded Rafel for around 2 billion dollars while India is paying around 8 billion dollars only for 8 more Rafels. Rahul Gandhi knows this because Congress party always had people in administration. This whole fight in CBI was to hide the Rafel deal only.

  14. Instead of F-18 or F-16 India can look at F-15x which has just been unveiled. And it beats me why they’re looking for single – engined aircraft. The sole engine fails, the pilot has to bail and the entire aircraft is lost. A twin engine plane can at least make it back.

  15. I believe our defence purchase is revamped & has SC scrutinized during Rafel deal. Our IAF is more aware about ground reality about serviceability, availability anytime, spare available, it’s production, dependability on only few companies and hence we lieve it to IAF to decide.
    I believe it is only on insistence of IAF both governments selected Dassault.

  16. Rafale is likely to be the winner. As the above article itself say that the India specific requirement is already made and Rafale also offer a Naval varient for IN Aircraft carrier. Further IAF is already maintaining more than 7 different jet fighters in its inventory so, adding another one more will be cause of concern with regards to training and maintenence of spare parts. Also it will be an added advantage if Desault follows the P & P (Public private) partnership model like how Boeing is partnering with Mahendra and HAL.

  17. wrt to war we need fighter planes which is not much known to enemies. F16 are common in market so the pros and cons widely known. It was the PAK pilot’s inablity and kill himself in front of vintage MIG.

    I think IAF forced to fly our old fighter planes since the hangers are near to boarder. Though IAF wanted to build hangers for SUs but there file got dusted or no decision was held. Imagine post Balkot PAF reaided through POK and they were able to drop some bombs ? Even the SUs are much capable they were not ready airborne since our hangers were far.

    Typically you play inside home with all mud sledding but when it comes to national security the Govt, political parties and other internal issues should be forgotten

  18. Going by the present chiefs philosophy I.e. when attacked throw the numbers, then going by the urgency of requirement we need urgent supplies and finally the fact that we need Superior fighters , why not have a mix of aircrafts, since a) we need urgent replenishment b) we need Superior air power c) we need to indigenize.

  19. I think Boing F 18 is the best option for our navy. We should concentrate for LCA Tejas and indigenous development of Kaveri engine with an effort of cost curtailment. To develop Tejas we may take the help of SAAB as offered by them. For Kaveri french help may be explored. Cost curtailment of Tejas should also be looked into.

    • f18 is the best option in short time .
      yes you are right ..
      time is important here ..
      it should not get (be) outdated when we get tham ..

      HAL provides 7-9 tejas in one year …
      so your second point is worrying.

      WE SHOULD GET F18 or his variant soon.
      than we should /can start planning for next generation.

  20. If we choose price over technology, be ready to loose war. One has to have the best armament and equipment to win a war. Let’s not be miser as far as country security is concerned.

  21. I am surprised that with the launch of false rhetoric by Congress on the Purchase Order of Rafale Key by NDA , the Government is now bent to make additional purchase of the balance fighters from amongst it’s competitors from elsewhere. I just can’t believe that the opposition to build up such a strong conviction that forces the Government to take a back step when the complete deal of Rafael was almost final . This time probably the Congress would have charged a huge commission from the competitors of Rafael for creating a false noise against the Rafael.

  22. apart from the Indian Air Force Indian navy will be needing 6 squadron as India will induct ins Vishal air carrier, hence f-18 and rafale are real contenders as they are also air superiority fighters as well. though rafale has a slight advantage.

  23. F 15 E the flying Eagle is the Aircraft which is not listed in the competition from Boeing formerly designed by Mcdowell Douglas is the fighter plane India Needs so desperately and it is the fighter plane that suits our defence needs perfectly ,it will dominate our adversaries and their skys even if they have 5th gen stealth fighters like the J 10 and the j 20 of China ,its cheap has about 115 kills in battle by the Israeli airforce till date and is being ordered by qatar and is also with the saudi arabian airforce it is a battle hardened and a proven war horse,The US has ordered the latest F 15 E for their own airforce so it can be used where stealth is not a requirement in battle.I hope IAF considers this option and speak to the US for this aircraft.India will not have to worry of ariel threats in the Region if they have the F 15 E.

  24. F16 and FA18, No. As we can never trust US with our front line equipment, in case of any war they might just disable them or degrade them.

    MiG35 and Su35, No, they require quite of servicing and are down most of the time, they are not as advanced as Rafale, we already have them

    EF2k, no, coz of the stated reasons and it I yet to prove itself.

    Gripen, it is very promising, all the deal is sweet, but it is single engine, and we have LCA comparable to it.

    Rafale, shines the most, but it’s pricey.
    It is leaps and bounds ahead of Su30mki, in every term, EW suite, radar, armament, robustness.
    It’s next generation of M2k, which never fails IAF, we used it in kargil. Balkot and what not, Tejas is inspired from M2k

    We need max number of Rafale we can afford, it’s a carefree, mean machine, it is better than the rest, only 2nd in the world to the F22

    • price should not be the point of decision. we must get the best.

      the problem i see is time.
      by the time we get tham, they should not get (be) out dated.
      rafel will take more time ….

      f18 is the best option in short time .
      we should get the 114 as fast as we can .. and should plan for next generation…


  25. Since we already have single engine fighter aircraft Tejas , it would be better to select twin engine one . From my point of view IAF should go for Rafale since all specific enhancements have been done and it would rather be cheaper or else IAF should go for F/A 18 and I think for navy F-35 with vertical take off feature would be a best option

  26. with due respect we should concentrate more on tejas 2.1 4.5th gen aircraft with brahmos ng missines and 30cal 30 multirole barrel canon with twin engines. tge amount if money we spend on foreign aurcraft can double our own fleet with tata steel mahindra tech tcs etc as indi allies.
    its sad that our indi hackers can hack nasdaq likes of satyam comp promoter but our govr will out them in tihar jail rather than award them with such tasks.
    and then we cry of lobour brexit from india ex. labour and skill drain
    how ………

    • i guess the production is so slow….

      f18 is best as we can get tham faster ..
      time is important … by the time we get tham it should not be out dated.

      we can get f18 quickly and should plan for next generation we need to improve HAL
      speed is important.
      8-9 tejas a YEAR is not enough .
      it gets out dated.
      (for me money/cost should not be the point to make deception)

      we need best.

  27. The actual competition is between Rafale and F18 since Indian Navy is also looking to acquire 57 fighter jets Rafale and F18 already have carrier landing capabilities and they are already in service with US and French navies. So Gripen is rejected. Since we already bought Rafale the winner is %90 Rafale jet and govt will buy 114 for airforce and 57 for navy %10 chance is there for F18 due to the on going controversies created by congress for their political purpose.

  28. Rafale is most suitable aircraft for IAF.
    It is most capable along with Meteor Missiles which will prove as a Game Changer in the region.
    * NDA govt is good in rapid decision making and we should appreciate it.
    * France is ready to provide it’s special support for Kaveri Engine and ToT for Rafale.
    * No such assistance can be expected from Us and With Russia Sukhoi 30 MKI production was a challenging task.
    * IAF doesn’t want to operate many kind of different platform as it already using 6.

  29. NDA government has done a good job in defence sector from Navy to IAF.
    Rafale Will be the most suitable aircraft for IAF because of it’s capabilities & add on missiles. It is also convenient to operate same type of model for any Airforce. India already is flying 6 different kind of Aircrafts.
    * Additionally France can assist India in reviving Kaveri engine.
    * Assistance of France is much more in comparison to US and Russia in ToT & Make in India.

  30. SAAB Gripen is likely to be selected if BJP is at the helm of affairs in the center. Any guesses who is the Indian partner of SAAB?

  31. The final selection should be left to IAF as they would be the ultimate users. Political slugfest would continue to be there even if it is a very transparent deal, governments have to learn to live with that.

  32. We must approch to aircraft comsnies that those company will help us to make our Kaveri engine upgraded up to 5 th generation engine, their air craft should be selected for bid of 114 air craft so that once for all we can purchase this time but for the future requirements, we can manufacture ourselves for our own air crafts.

  33. I think India should simply buy more upgraded mig 29s to meet the squadron deficit. They are cheaper and better than what China and Pakistan has. Also IAF pilots are experts in flying the mig 29 as it is already available in IAF inventory for more than 3 decades.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here