India said Thursday it would begin crucial contract negotiations in the next fortnight for an estimated $12 billion order for 126 fighter jets.
The announcement came a day after Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the long-delayed contract to modernise India’s decades-old aircraft fleet would be handed out during the next fiscal year starting April 1.
“The contract negotiation committee will begin discussions in a week or two,” Indian Airforce chief P.V. Naik told reporters on the sidelines of South Asia’s biggest airshow in Bangalore, the hub of India’s aviation industry.
Six global aeronautical companies, which are in a dogfight to grab the deal to sell the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), each claimed at the airshow that their products were the world’s best.
“The Indian air force is very pleased with the performance of the F-16 and we are hopeful of being shortlisted,” said Orville Prins of U.S-based Lockheed Martin which wants to sell its front-line fighter jet to India.
India, the biggest buyer of military hardware among emerging nations, issued the request for proposals to the six firms in 2007 and the long-awaited trials of the aircraft competing for the deal began a year later.
Industry sources say the F-16 and Seattle-based Boeing, which is offering its F-18 “Superhornet,” have emerged as front-runners after the grueling trials.
The contract includes the outright purchase of 18 combat aircraft by 2012 with another 108 to be built in India. India would also have an option to buy 64 more such jets.
The other companies bidding include France’s Dassault Aviation, pan-European manufacturer Eurofighter Typhoon and Sweden’s Saab.
Saab will have the “technological lead in five years,” said Peter Nilsson, an executive from the Swedish firm.
India also announced Thursday it is set to agree a contract with Dassault for the upgrade of its fleet of Mirage fighter aircraft but would not disclose the value of the deal.
Russia, a longtime military supplier to India, pipped its Western rivals last December when it signed a mammoth agreement with New Delhi to co-produce some 250 stealth fighter jets worth $30 billion by 2017.