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Tender called for fighter aircraft deal

Sandeep Dikshit

Document contains parameters that will form the basis of selection; six companies in the race

NEW DELHI: The government on Tuesday issued the much-awaited tender for purchase of fighter aircraft. The deal is expected to be worth Rs. 42,000 crore but half of the amount must be sourced from India. The Indian Air Force (IAF) wants to induct at least 126 medium category fighters to have the right mix of small, medium and large aircraft in its fleet.

The fighters will equip seven squadrons and replace some MiG-21 versions being phased out and also fill the gap due to delayed development of the indigenous fighter Tejas.

The Request for Proposals (RFP), as the tender is called, is of great interest to the manufacturers. The 211-page document contains parameters that will form the basis of selection. The previous Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi, had estimated the delivery time for the first aircraft to be five years from the date the RFP is issued. While 18 aircraft will come straight from the manufacturer’s plant, 108 will have to be produced in India. The companies are expected to respond to the RFP in six months. The selection will be a two-stage process. First, the IAF will apprise the manufacturer to ensure that it meets all parameters.

For a medium weight aircraft these would include high manoeuvrability and rate of climb and descent to take on enemy aircraft threatening vital installations (air defence) and the right weapon suite, along with precision navigation equipment, to attack any kind of target (ground attack).

They should also have the capability to conduct reconnaissance and carry out attacks after flying over the sea.

After the field trials, commercial proposals would be examined and compared. The government has slightly altered the criteria of lifecycle maintenance costs (the cost of maintaining an aircraft over its estimated life of 40 years). However, it resisted western opposition to reduce the 50 per cent offset clause but promised “great flexibility” in effecting alliances with Indian partners. Under the offset clause, half of the cost of the aircraft would have to be sourced from India but the lead integrator will be Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The results will then be put up for political clearance.

The six companies in the race are: Boeing and Lockheed Martin (both U.S.), MiG MAPO (Russia), Gripen (Sweden), Rafale (France) and Eurofighter (a British-German-French-Spanish alliance).

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, while chairing a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (which vetted the RFP and suggested some changes) on June 29, outlined three main principles for selecting the winner. First, the operational requirements of the IAF should be fully met.

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