Notwithstanding huge loss of life due Covid 19, Conflict hotspots around the world such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, South China Sea, and Indo-Pak LoC remain active. Defence procurements are a long drawn process. Major defence manufacturing countries the world are all severely affected by the virus. Immediate supplies for India are expected from USA, France, and Russia.
The scheduled arrival of initial Dassault Rafale aircraft from France to India is May 2020. But we understand that the training of Indian pilots greatly slowed down since end February 2020 due need for lockdowns and social distancing. Currently the training is moving at very slow pace and may get completed around 2-3 months behind schedule. Before the aircraft arrive in India, a lot of critical ground equipment and test rigs etc need to reach and be set up at the first airbase Ambala. Many of these items are ready but the entire logistics chain is clogged with flights not operating and also the warehouses at the airports being full and are unable to accept any goods. This is also bound to delay deliveries further. Even if the countries start opening up industrial activity and cargo movement in May 2020, the contract deliveries could be delayed to August-September 2020, if not more. Yes these are force majeure conditions and implications are less contractual and for build up delays.
Other critical contracts for IAF are the supply of remaining Boeing Chinook and Apache helicopters form USA which is one of the worst hit countries. 10 Chinooks have been delivered, and remaining five were to be delivered by March 2020. Similarly 17 Apache helicopters have been delivered and five more are awaited. There will be delays in these last lots. Five Squadrons of Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile System, S-400 missile system have been contracted from Russia. The first Squadron was to induct in mid 2020, as per ‘Year End Review – 2019’ by Ministry of Defence. During Defence Expo 2020 at Lucknow, in February 202, Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Vladimir Drozhzhov said that “The contract is being implemented on schedule. The first shipment is due by the end of 2021.”
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, production has also slowed down due COVID 19. Also the aircraft production is affected by the supply chain from many indigenous and foreign component and systems suppliers. Only 19 aircraft have been delivered till date in last over three years. By March 2020, the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was, to expand its production capacity to at least a squadron (16+) of aircraft every year. That plan would slow down further.
Even the deliberations and file process for release Request For Proposal (RFP) for 114 multirole fighter aircraft has got delayed. With IAF at an all time low of 30 squadrons vis-a-vis the authorised 42 will have serious operational capability building implications.