awaits IAF nod for Mirage-2000 upgrade
New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) Even as it supports a French bid for
an Indian Air Force tender for 126 combat jets, European aerospace
major Thales is awaiting the IAF's final nod for upgrading
its fleet of Mirage-2000 fighter bombers to enhance their
strike capabilities and extend their operational life by at
least 20 years.
"We have several significant priorities for India. In
the short term the retrofit of the Mirage-2000 aircraft is
clearly a strong request and we are working hard on it - Thales
is leading this important programme along with its French
and Indian industrial partners," Pierre-Yves Chaltiel,
Thales' head of solutions for governments sector, told IANS.
"In the mid-term, we are also strongly supporting the
Rafale aircraft along with Dassault and Snecma in the bid
for India's MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) programme
(for the 126 jets)," he added.
Chaltiel is in India for the Aero India-2009 international
military air show at Bangalore Feb 11-15, during which Thales
will be showcasing its capabilities in the spheres of military
aviation, civil aviation, aviation services and security,
air traffic management and defence.
Pointing out that the technical and programme issues relating
to the Mirage-2000 upgrade "have been discussed and agreed
(to)", Chaltiel said: "We have put everything in
place with all our Indian industrial partners, through the
transfer of knowledge and technology, for the Indian industry
to be in full capacity during the execution phases of the
While Thales was reluctant to state figures given a confidentiality
clause, the project is believed to be worth $1.5 billion for
upgrading the 51 Mirage-2000s in the IAF fleet to Dash-5 levels.
This will give the jets multi-role capability with longer-range
radars and fire-and-forget missiles, enabling less aircraft
to perform a given mission thanks to greater fuel and weapon-delivery
The upgrade will involve providing the Mirage-2000, which
was first inducted in mid-1980, a state-of-the-art fly-by-wire
digital cockpit and an enhanced weapons-carrying capability.
Under the Thales proposal, the company would deliver the first
two aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months
of the signing of the contract, and would simultaneously assist
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in upgrading another two
aircraft in India in the same time frame.
Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one of the remaining 47 aircraft
"The Mirage-2000 will be further enhanced by the integration
of new capabilities," Chaltiel, had told IANS in November
during a visit to Thales facilities in France.
"These include longer range detection across the spectrum,
improved tactical situation awareness, longer range weapon
firing against multiple simultaneous targets, weapon stealth
and extended operating envelope with the capability to engage
ground targets while countering airborne threats," Chaltiel
"The resulting tactical advantage will allow commanders
to commit fewer aircraft while achieving a higher success
rate, thanks in particular to greater fuel and weapon-delivery
"For instance, a typical border protection mission involving
two hours on station will require just two upgraded Mirage-2000
aircraft compared with the current six aircraft," Chaltiel
The IAF had floated a global tender in September 2007 for
126 medium multi-role combat aircraft in a deal valued at
$10 billion. Six jets are in the fray: the US Boeing F/A-18
Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-16, the French Dassault
Rafale, the Swedish Saab Grippen, the Russian MiG-35 and the
Eurofighter Typhoon built by a four-nation European consortium.
The technical bids have been evaluated and the six aircraft
will be put through a rigorous testing process in Bangalore,
Jaisalmer and Leh.
The first is meant to gauge the aircraft's ability to operate
in the humid conditions of south, the second their effectiveness
in the deserts of Rajasthan and the third to study their suitability
in the icy Himalayan heights of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
By the time the evaluation process is complete, the size of
the order is likely to rise to around 200 jets, as the IAF,
which is down to 32 squadrons from a high of 39 1/2, is expected
to see a further depletion of its fleet due to the retirement
of some of its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft. The IAF
has a sanctioned strength of 45 squadrons.
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