Sunday, May 29, 2011

India Accelerates Fighter Deal

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony says India’s much-anticipated choice in its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program could occur before the end of March 2012.

India wants to expedite the deal in part because Pakistan is expecting a speedy delivery of 50 JF-17 aircraft, which originally were to be spread out over two years, according to defense ministry officials.

Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar has been quoted saying that his country is seeking delivery within six months of the JF-17 Thunder single-engine multirole fighters, which were developed by China and Pakistan.

A Pakistan air force spokesman says the first batch of these aircraft will be handed over to Islamabad within weeks. The agreement to expedite the delivery came as Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, held talks in Beijing on May 19.

Antony has expressed discomfort over this development. “It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is, we have to increase our capability — that is the only answer,” he says.

Last month, India short-listed the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale for the estimated $11 billion contract to provide 126 fighter jets (Aerospace DAILY, April 28). India rejected Boeing’s F/A-18E/F and Lockheed Martin’s F-16. Russia’s MiG-35 and Saab’s Gripen also were shut out.

The Indian air force is buying the MMRCA to replace its aging Soviet-era MiG-21 fighters, which date back to the 1960s.

“The negotiation for crucial commercial terms will begin next month,” says Michael Christie, senior vice president at BAE Systems India. BAE is part of the Eurofighter consortium, along with Alenia Aeronautica and EADS.

The first 18 jets will be bought in “fly-away” condition, and the remainder will be produced under license with a selected vendor in India.

According to sources close to the project, the government has initiated negotiations with the bidders on offset requirements. India has fixed offset obligations at 50%, requiring that half of the deal’s worth be reinvested in Indian industry.

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