India is considering upgrades to its Dassault Mirage 2000 and Sepecat Jaguar fighter jet fleets, with its air force looking to extend the life of these aircraft as delays continue to plague ongoing procurements and the induction of new aircraft.

Upgrades to the 50-strong Mirage 2000 fleet are likely to go ahead first. New Delhi looks to issue a contract around the end of 2007 for the $1 billion programme that will upgrade the aircraft to Mirage 2000-5 standards, say industry sources.

State-owned aviation major Hindustan Aeronautics and France's Dassault Aviation are likely to lead the work on the airframes and engine work. France's Thales, Israel's Elbit Systems and India's Bharat Electronics would be subcontractors providing upgraded avionics, electronic warfare systems, radars, cockpits and helmet-mounted sights for the pilots. The aircraft could also be fitted with long-range missile capability.

The first two fighters would take up to two years to be upgraded, and the pace would then pick up to around two to three aircraft a month, according to Indian news reports. The plan is to refurbish of all the aircraft by 2012, say an industry source.

Plans are also in the offing for new engines to be fitted into India's fleet of around 150 Jaguars, which now use the licence-produced Rolls-Royce Ardour 804.

These aircraft have been in service for around 25 years, and HAL is in the process of completing upgrades to their avionics, cockpit and weapons systems. Honeywell and R-R are vying for the engines contract, which could be awarded around early 2008.

Honeywell is offering the F125, which is used on Taiwan's Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF). This engine, the company has told the service, has the extra thrust needed to cope with HAL's upgrades and increase the aircraft's strike capability.

R-R, however, is also making a strong push for its Ardour 821, which will be used in the BAE Hawk advanced jet trainer that India has bought.

Engine upgrades to the Jaguar were not a priority for the Indian air force over the past few years as it sought to bolster other parts of its fleet. But there is also a growing recognition that this will be needed at some point amid few signs of progress in the country's major procurement exercises.

Industry sources say that the request for proposals for the multi-role combat aircraft programme is to be delayed even further to around mid-September, even though government officials had initially said that it would be issued this month.

Plans to induct the indigenously developed and long-delayed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft into the service by 2010 could also be hampered if there are further hitches in its production schedule.

Source: Flight International