IAF chief says India to have fifth-generation jets in 2018
By Bappa Majumdar
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will introduce an advanced fighter jet it is building with Russia in 2018, a move that will bring sophistication to its air power but could also spark unease among neighbours China and Pakistan.
New Delhi has watched warily as China has made rapid strides in defence, worried that Beijing's long-term strategy for the region could involve encircling India.
Indian military commanders have stressed greater firepower as a counter-measure, particularly for the air force. The fifth generation fighter aircraft joint project with Russia is part of that strategy.
"The fifth generation aircraft would possess technologies which would provide it (India) the edge over adversaries in future air warfare," P.V. Naik, the Chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), said in a written statement sent to Reuters.
"China is rapidly modernising its air force ... On our part, the IAF is reviewing its tactics regularly to increase its combat potential," Naik said.
India's plans to bolster its air force include upgrading more than 50 airbases along the Chinese and Pakistan border, he said.
Traditionally, any move by India to acquire new weaponry has been met with similar moves by Pakistan, putting already fragile regional security under further strain.
The fifth-generation fighters, billed as a competitor to the U.S. F-22 Raptor, can fool sophisticated radars and will be able to take off from short airstrips and remain in the air for longer than the current fighters, air force officials say.
India's air force says it has more than 800 active combat aircraft but is dwarfed by China's, which has more than 2,000 fighter aircraft.
Arms procurement is a painfully slow process in India because of red tape and charges of corruption in winning tenders.
India plans to procure at least 200 of the fifth-generation fighters, each valued at $100 million, in a deal which analysts say is watched with unease by neighbours Pakistan and China.
India is looking to spend more than $50 billion over the next five years to modernise its largely Soviet-era weapons systems.
The governments of Russia and India have already signed the deal for the advanced jet, although the two companies that will build them have not. Officials say that is just a formality and will be completed this year.
Production of the stealth jet fighter is a 50-50 joint venture between Russia and India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which will build a mission computer, cockpit displays and other navigation systems.
India is also buying 126 multi-role fighters and will pare down the number of bidders for the $11 billion deal by June or July, Naik said [ID:nSGE61H074]. That contract is one of the world's biggest arms deals.
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