Fighter jet deals to hot up Aero India show

Fighter jet deals to hot up Aero India show

Two prospective fighter aircraft deals are likely to hot up Aero India 2017, beginning in Bengaluru a week from now.

While the navy has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to purchase 57 carrier-borne fighter aircraft, the government is exploring the possibility of buying close to 100 single engine combat jets for the air force in a government-to-government contract.

The RFI for 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters were released last month after Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba made it clear that the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (Navy) would not be considered for India’s next aircraft carrier – likely to be named INS Vishal – which is expected to be operational around 2030.

Because of its dwindling squadron strength, the air force, too, requires more fighter aircraft as only 36 (two squadrons) Rafale fighters would not make up the shortfall in the wake of the cancellation of a previous global tender to buy 126 medium multi-role fighter aircraft.

In October, the Indian embassies in the US and Sweden contacted aviation majors Lockheed Martin and Saab to find out if they can meet India’s requirement in case of a government order for a large number of fighter aircraft.

Both companies assured the officials that they could shift their F-16 and Gripen assembly lines to India, if there is a minimum assured order.

While officials remained tight-lipped on the progress, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar added fuel to the fire when he stated that the final selection for a western partner to provide a single-engine fighter for the air force would depend on the transfer of technology terms and the pricing proposed by the original equipment manufacturer.

Top officials from the aviation companies would now get an opportunity to take the discussions forward when they meet Indian officials at the Aero India show between February 14 and 18. More than 750 companies have confirmed participation in the biennial show that has grown in size over the years.

Gripen aircraft, flown by the Swedish Air Force, will be participating in air displays on all days of the show.

A full-scale model of the latest generation Gripen-E would be on display, while the US Air Force will fly the F-16s.

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