A Window for Russia’s MiG-35? India Removes the ‘Single Engine’ Requirement From its Light Fighter Competition

India’s Single Engine Light Fighter Competition sought to ascertain which light multirole platform would best be able to serve in a complementary role to the country’s heavy Su-30MKI air superiority platforms. Over 100 of whichever platform was deemed most suitable would then be commissioned by the air force. The competition previously had a highly restrictive and unusual single engine criteria, eliminating a number of potential competitors and leading to a competition between only two platforms – the U.S. Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Swedish Saab Gripen. With the F-16 being a heavier, more advanced, more versatile, better combat tested, and less costly platform than the Gripen – this made the F-16 essentially the only competitive or reasonable choice for the Indian Air Force, outmatching its Swedish counterpart in all fields. By removing the “single engine” criteria however, the Indian Air Force has allowed for a more genuine competition between leading manufacturers of light multirole fighters, with the majority of these platforms being twin engine fighters.

Potential competitors which could go up against the F-16 as a result of the removal of the single engine restriction include the US F-18 and F-18E. The former is a similarly capable but far more costly higher maintenance fighter compared to the F-16, and was designed as a carrier based fighter. The F-18E meanwhile is a heavier and far more costly platform with superior combat capabilities which has proven popular among nations unable to acquire genuine air superiority platforms, and have compensated by indicting a heavier and more capable multirole platform – Bulgaria and Australia being key examples. With India fielding its own vast air superiority fleet however, there is little need for such a ‘heavy light fighter.’ While the F-18 variants may in future see service with India’s carrier fleet, India’s Air Force is unlikely to select them over the F-16. Other options are also ruled out from the competition, with the Eurofighter, French Rafale and US F-35 costing several times as much as the F-16, and India highly unlikely to acquire fighters from China, Pakistan or Taiwan who produce the J-10, JF-17 and Ching-Kuo respectively. The result is that the only nation which has a significant chance of benefitting from the removal of the single engine criterion is Russia.

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