Last week, during an annual press conference ahead of Air Force Day, the chief of the Indian Air Force emphasised the importance of a project to procure 114 'multirole fighter aircraft' (MRFA).
Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari said the project for 114 fighter jets would be "under the Make In India initiative" and the Indian Air Force was moving the "case forward". Announced in April 2019, the estimated acquisition cost of 114 fighter jets is $18 billion.
Companies from the US, France, Sweden and Russia and a European consortium have offered their aircraft for the project. The MRFA competition had been touted as a 're-run' of an aborted competition to buy 126 fighter aircraft for the IAF that was called the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft' (MMRCA), which was first launched in the first decade of this millennium. The Dassault Rafale was announced as the winner of the MMRCA tender in 2012, but the tender was cancelled in 2015 as negotiations with the French manufacturer got bogged down. That year, the Narendra Modi government announced India would buy 36 Rafale jets off the shelf.
However, in February 2020, news emerged that the US government, under then president Donald Trump, wanted to 'disrupt' the Indian Air Force competition by offering a heavyweight fighter, the F-15EX.
The F-15EX is the newest version of the F-15 air superiority fighter, which first flew in 1972. While nearly identical to a standard F-15 externally, the F-15EX has a new fly-by-wire system, more powerful processor and advanced electronic warfare suite.
Earlier this year, Boeing confirmed the F-15EX had been offered to the Indian Air Force. The F-15EX is significantly heavier than all the other aircraft on offer to the Indian Air Force and can carry a payload of nearly 13 tonnes of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons and fuel tanks, significantly more than the Dassault Rafale.
In February, the F-15EX made its first flight, prior to delivery to the US Air Force. The US Air Force intends to buy 76 F-15EX fighters by 2025 and could eventually have a fleet of 144 jets.
On October 8, to mark Air Force Day, US Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney tweeted its wishes to the Indian Air Force with a video of the F-15EX. Pratt & Whitney tweeted, "We’re proud to power many IAF aircraft and are excited for the opportunity to power the F-15EX with our F100 engine."
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While the first batch of F-15EX fighters being bought by the US Air Force use F110 engines built by GE, Pratt & Whitney has been offering the latest variant of the F100 engine that powered the first F-15 jet that flew in 1972.
In a post on the company website, Thomas Prete, vice president, Military Engineering, Pratt & Whitney, declares the "The F100-PW-229 is the most capable, most reliable 4th generation fighter engine ever developed". All countries operating the F-15 and F-16 use either the F100 or F110 engines, which have similar dimensions and thrust settings.