Indian Air Force is largely dependent on Russian aircraft such as Mig-21s and MiG-27s. The condition of these jets is so bad that they have earned the names like ‘the flying coffin’ or ‘widow maker’. In last five years there have been 10 accidents with MiGs and they shall continue to happen because we have used them after 40 years of the date of retirement.
The newer plan by the MoD is that the entire fleet has to be replaced with newer jets and the deal is to buy 126 aircrafts. India has two choices to buy from, one is The F 16 Block 70 produced by American firm Lockheed Martin and the JAS 39 Gripen E by Swedish company Saab.
The deal has to be inked under Make in India doctrine no matter who wins. For the same sake, Lockheed Martin has tied up with Tata and Saab announced partnership with Adani. Also, the aircraft will made on Indian soil.
We compare the two aircrafts and figure out which one is the best.
F 16- PROs and CONs
F-16 has proven to be an aircraft which is used since a long time and currently it is deployed by 27 countries all around the globe. It was in 1976 that US air force used F 16, they were also used in NATO operations and Pakistan. The specifications of F-16 are, length of 14.8 meters, a wingspan of 9.8 meters, a maximum take-off weight of 16,875 kg, a fuel capacity of 3,175 kg, a payload limit of 7,700 kg and can attain a maximum speed of 2470 km per hour.
In defence technologies, certainly sometimes the experience matters when we are switching newer technologies we have to absolutely sure of the fact that it works. The F-16 has proven itself over many battles and it means that it can be a safer bet than Gripen. Lockheed Martin has agreed to sell the F 16 Block 70, the latest variant, to India. Pakistan is using block 52 right now and that means India has a direct tactical advantage over Pakistan because of new and advanced variant.
The F-16 also has a single supply chain which means every part can be made at one place, all the assembling and manufacturing at one place. Also, there is a big market for F-16 or for any spare parts which can be sold further.
F- 16 Cons-
Some defence experts have showed their worry that Lockheed Martin can push outdated technology to India. According to experts, the F-16 is already 40 years old and the new block 70 version may be its latest variant but due to the main variant being 40 years old, it does not give much room for modification. Also, Lockheed martin has produced newer aircraft such as the F22 Raptor but it has higher operating cost and lower life cycle than Saab’s Gripen.
There is also a slight disadvantage that the Pakistan Air Force knows the F 16 better than IAF, so in the event of any confrontation it will be difficult to counter them as Pakistan is operating F-16 since long.
Gripen is produced by Swedish company, Saab. The specificiations of Gripen E are length is 15.2 meters, take off weight 16,500 kg, max speed of 2470 km per hour and a payload capacity of 5,300 kg and a wingspan of 8.6 meters. It is believed to be most advanced multi-role fighter jets in the world and can adept to all missions, let it be air to air or air to surface or reconnaissance.
It can thwart stealth missions with its advanced sensor technologies. It is said to have one of the most advanced sensor technologies and it is much better than F-16’s sensor technology. Even the cockpit is digital with 3D screen and a superior radio communication system when we compare it to F 16.
Saab has also very low operating cost and longer life cycle. SAAB only deals with Sweden, South Africa, Czech Republic and Hungary as far as Gripen goes. It is also made as it can go any modifications and updates which makes it a good replacement of Russian aircrafts.
As SAAB deals with very limited number of countries right now, they will be much eager to get on board with the Indian govt rather than the American firm. It gives a greater chance of negotiation on the table.
There are a few cons when India decides to go ahead with Gripen.
Saab is just 1/13th of Lockheed Martin and as Gripen does not have a single supply chain. It raises doubts about the effectiveness of their supply chain. Also, Gripen uses an american engine.
The Operating cost of Gripen might be low but the per unit cost of each aircraft is much higher. Also, for the combat experience, F 16 is much ahead than Gripen. Also, a partnership with Lockheed Martin may further build ties with India-US relations.
No matter whatever is chosen, there will be something taken or something lost as always but we wish India makes the best decision for the Indian Air Force.