The Centre on Friday cleared the path for floating India's biggest ever global tender to purchase 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft worth Rs 42,000 crore (approximately $10 billion).
The request for proposals will be issued by the first week of August, Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said. An official announcement said the "process for procurement of the fighters had been cleared".
Once the deal is through, India will acquire 18 fighters in ready-to-fly condition. The remaining 118 will be manufactured under license in the country. The first batch of fighter jets are likely to be delivered within three years of the signing of the contract.
Six major firms — US firm Lockheed Martin, Boeing, France's Dassault, Sweden's Saab, a European consortium and Russia's Mikoyan Design Bureau — are expected to vie for the deal.
The Indian Air Force hopes to make up for its fast depleting fighter squadron strength — expected to hit a low of 29 squadrons by 2010 against the sanctioned strength of 45 — with these 126 aircraft. The new fighters will gradually replace the IAF's ageing MiG-21s.
Friday's decision ended six years of suspense since the request for information was circulated.