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India closes in on fighter aircraft deal

by Staff Writers
Bangalore, India (UPI) Feb 11, 2011
India's air force is keeping its fingers crossed that the forthcoming $10.4 billion contract for 126 fighters won't fall foul of any corruption watchdog investigation.

The tender was issued in August 2007 and India is set to enter into cost negotiations in a couple weeks, after which a vendor will be chosen out of the six bidders, likely by September.

Planes in the running are the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from Boeing, the Rafale by French firm Dassault, the Eurofighter Typhoon from Europe's EADS, Lockheed Martin's F-16, the Russian-made MiG-35 and the Gripen from Swedish firm Saab.

However, the head of the air force fears one or more of the losing bidders might question the procurement process, meaning an investigation would be started, which would probably delay the purchase and eventual induction of the aircraft into the air force.

"But some dissatisfied vendor among those not chosen for cost negotiations may put a spoke in the wheel and derail the process by going to the central vigilance commissioner with complaints leading to a delay, though we want to quickly sign the contract," Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik told a news conference during the Aero India air show at the Yelahanka air base near Bangalore.

Defense Minister A.K. Antony reassured the news conference that the procurement process is and will be free from political interference and the winner would be chosen on the plane's capabilities and merits alone, as analyzed by the Defense Ministry.

This year's Aero India show is the largest, with 29 participating countries showcasing 93 fighters, trainers, private jets, helicopters and commercial jets.

Hindustan Aeronautics, which had headquarters in Bangalore, announced a 10-year plant modernization program and hinted that the company might go public.

HAL has 19 production divisions along with 10 research and development centers in the country and aims to design, develop and manufacture 1,500 helicopters over the next decade.

At the Aero Indian show, HAL Finance Director D. Shivamurthi said going public would make the company "do better" and be "much more responsive."

HAL also is set to upgrade 63 of the Indian air force's 69 MiG-29 fighter aircraft as part of $900 million deal with Russia's MiG Corp. The first six upgrades -- separate from the upgrades to be done by HAL -- will be done by MiG in Russia.

MiG is replacing the N-109 radar with a Phazotron Zhuk-M system. The aircraft also are being equipped for enhance beyond-visual-range combat ability and for air-to-air refueling.

The first upgraded aircraft recently had a test flight in Russia.

earlier related report
BAE shows Typhoon jet for India
Bangalore, India (UPI) Feb 11, 2011 - Europe's BAE Systems has heeded a request by the Indian navy for information concerning the purchase of Typhoon combat jets.

The news came during the Aero India 2011 show, the biggest defense exhibit in Southeast Asia, where BAE presented the Indian naval Typhoon.

The announcement came as the Financial Times reported that the Eurofighter consortium was poised to offer India a "manufacturing role as the international race intensifies to supply 126 jet fighters worth $11billion to New Delhi.

Competitors are said to include the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Mikoyan MiG-35.

That the U.S. Pentagon is considering the possible release of Joint Strike Fighter program technology to India marks a significant shift in policy toward New Delhi, a change resulting from growing concern over the military growth of China.

The Typhoon is co-produced by European firms that include EADS, BAE Systems and Finmeccanica.

India announced plans recently to spend up to $30 billion on its military by 2012. In recent weeks, also it said that locking in negotiations with Boeing, the second-largest U.S. defense contractor, which is hoping to bid for $31 billion worth of military contracts in India in the coming years.

A KPMG report estimates India's defense spending will swell even further, forecasting about $112 billion on defense procurement by 2016, creating offset opportunities worth $30 billion for the domestic industry.

Pictures presented by BAE at Aero India showed "an aircraft model with a number of modifications compared to the land-based Typhoon being offered to the Indian air force in a contest to provide a medium, multi-role combat aircraft," the Defense News Web site reported.

"Most obvious is the conformal tanks and thrust vectoring nozzles," it said, adding that there were also more subtle changes included in the undercarriage and strengthening of the airframe to take the Typhoon to sea.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Indian navy officials had been convinced with the feasibility plan presented by BAE.

If so, then the company will have two additional hurdles to overcome before clinching a deal with India's navy.

The first requires the Typhoon beating rivals competing for the air force order. And the second, as Defense News reported, spawns from whether the Indian navy will "decide if it will continue to use ski jumps on its expanding aircraft carrier force or start to switch to a catapult and arrestor gear configuration."

Meeting catapult requirements, company officials explained, would burden the aircraft, blunt its performance and spike costs.

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