India opens bids in $10.4-bn combat plane tender

India opens bids in $10.4-bn combat plane tender

But the suspense over the winner of the contract, said to be one of the largest in the Indian context, is far from over, as the Indian defence ministry and Indian Air Force will burn the midnight oil over the next couple of weeks to figure out the lowest bidder.

"The commercial bids for the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) deal from the two competing firms were opened here in the presence of their representatives," a defence ministry official said.

The bids of the European consortium from Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and EADS Cassidian, as also Dassault Aviation, will be perused by the Indian officials to figure out the fly-away cost, life cycle cost, technology transfer cost and the offset offers before the winner of the contract will be known.

The four-year-long tendering process -- one of the shortest as per Indian standards -- had begun in August 2007.

The offset clause in the tender, included under the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) of 2006, requires the winner of the tender to reinvest 50 percent of the deal amount in the Indian defence industry in an effort to energise it.

The clause, an accepted norm in global military purchases, mandates that any foreign firm that wins a defence deal worth over Rs.300 crore will have to plough at least 30 percent of the contract amount back into Indian defence industry. In the case of the combat jet order, the offset value has been raised to 50 percent.

India had in April down-selected the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale and asked the manufacturers to extend their  commercial bids, that were on the point of expiring, till the middle of December.

The down-select had resulted in the rejection of four other contending aircraft -- the Lockheed Martin F-16, the Boeing F/A-18, Russian United Aircraft Corporation's MiG-35 and Swedish SAAB's Gripen.

The shortlist had taken place after rigorous flight and weapons trials of the six aircraft held in different terrain -- Bangalore in south India, Leh in Jammu Kashmir's high altitude Ladakh region and in Rajasthan's desert under searing heat conditions.

After losing out in the MMRCA race, the Americans openly expressed their displeasure and are now pitching their new F-35 Lightning-II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth generation combat jet from the Lockheed Martin stable.

India has already signed a deal with Russia for the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft or FGFA on the Sukhoi T-50 plane design.