Global giants line up for $10-bn IAF aircraft deal

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 1 2010, 03:50am hrs
Top leaders of the world are lining up for a $10-billion Indian order for 126 fighter aircraft. Companies from the US, France and Russia have put in their bids for the 126 MMRCA for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the visiting leadership are expected to lobby with their counter parts. The US President Barack Obamas visit in November will be followed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozys in early December and later by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Sources told FE on conditions of anonymity that, the six contenders have yet to be shortlisted. The defence ministry can decide on shortlisting the contenders only once it have the technical offsets evaluation committee report along with the Field Trial report.

After it goes to the Cabinet Committee on Security for a final decision, there will government-to-government negotiations in an effort to get additional benefits for the country, the source added.

American companies, Lockheed Martin F-16IN, Boeing F/A-18, French Dassault Rafale, EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen and Russian MiG-35 are in the running for the 126-aircraft programme.

So far the IAF has had a meeting with Lockheed Martin and the French 'Dassault of Rafale.

According to sources, Vendors who are compliant rule wise, Defence Procurement Policy and Technical offsets will ultimately be opened for consideration. Also, the lowest bidder, designated L1, will be selected as the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA)."

The whole procedure is expected to take a couple of months and by then Obama will be here. While the MMRCA deal will be topping the agenda. Several other pending deals including the medium weight helicopters where the RFP is likely to be scrapped will be talked about. It is expected that India could ask the US for encryption technology too.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni will arrive on a two-day visit on December 6-7. Definitely MMRCA deal come up for discussions. Eventually the selection of the MMRCA will be political decision, said officials.

Apart from inking pact for the supply of two reactors, India and France will also sign a $2.2-billion deal to upgrade its Mirage fleet. The upgrade deal, which had been hanging fire for the past two years due to differences over the price, is now ready to be inked, sources in the defence ministry said.

France is also keen that India approve the Maitri air-to-surface Low-Level Quick Reaction Missile (LLQRM), which has been jointly developed by the DRDO and Frances MBDA. While the missiles final design has been locked up, the government is still to give a go ahead for the joint project.

Though India and Russia are implementing several joint military programmes, the most important are the production and upgrading of the BrahMos missile and the construction of fifth-generation supersonic fighters, among other things.

The MiG-35 is one of the contenders for the MMRCA is a MiG-29. The presence of MiG-29 infrastructure and a new plant for licence-building RD-33 Series III engines in India makes compliance with industrial offset requirements easier. The Russians are keen to sell the MiG-35 to the IAF, and could possibly on the agenda of talks.