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India set to decide major military aircraft deals

India is set to decide on possibly the world's biggest combat aircraft deal of this decade as well as those for new combat, utility and heavy-lift helicopters within the next few weeks or months, but all within 2011.

delhi Updated: Jun 16, 2011 13:37 IST

India is set to decide on possibly the world's biggest combat aircraft deal of this decade as well as those for new combat, utility and heavy-lift helicopters within the next few weeks or months, but all within 2011.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that the commercial bids of the two finalists in the race for 126-plus Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) would be opened this month, and those for the combat, heavy-lift and utility helicopters and the basic trainer aircraft "any time between the next few days to few weeks".

The air chief did not give any figures, but a rough calculation shows that IAF could be announcing deals worth $30 billion, or more, by the end of 2011.

A $4.1 billion deal for 10 C-17 Globemaster III heavy airlifters was signed on Tuesday and there is a possibility of more such aircraft being acquired. This apart, the MMRCA deal, for which only the Eurofighter and Rafale remain in the fray, could touch or exceed $15 billion if the option for an additional 63 aircraft is exercised in addition to the 126 units given in the tender. The three helicopter variants and the trainer aircraft, along with support and training packages, could cost another $5 billion.

In an interview for India Strategic's Paris Air Show edition, the air chief said the IAF had already finalized its choice for the combat helicopter while that of the utility helicopter had also been through with the Indian Army, which is the lead buyer in this case. The IAF will buy the same helicopter.

As for the heavy-lift helicopter, "the final report can be expected within the next few days," he said.

All the required reports were either already with the defence ministry or just about to be submitted, Naik said, pointing out the IAF was well on its way towards transformation by 2022 or 2025.

Boeing's Apache AH 64D and the Russian Mi 28NE are the two contenders in the race for combat helicopters while Boeing's Chinook - the only helicopter which can float on water - and Russian Rosoboronexport's Mi-26 are in the fray for the heavy-lift role. The utility helicopter race for the Indian Army and the IAF has the EADS Eurocopter and the Russian Kamov in the race.

In the basic trainer role, the Swiss Pilatus 7, Korean KT 1 and US Beechcraft T-6 have been short-listed by the IAF, and the finalist is also due to be announced.

The IAF has already selected 12 VVIP helicopters from Agusta Westland and 80 multi-role Mi-17-1Vs from Russia. A project to build some 200 Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft has already been signed with Russia.

The acquisitions apart, the IAF has already inducted two of the six special operations
C-130J Super Hercules aircraft ordered from US Lockheed Martin, and by Feb 2012 the remaining would be in the IAF inventory.

The support infrastructure for the aircraft is in place, on time, the air chief said, adding: "There are plans to acquire an additional six C-130Js through the same Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US government.

Speaking about the milestones in the MMRCA race, the air chief said that even after the commercial bids are opened, the final decision would still take a couple of months as it wasn't just the price but the package in terms of direct costs, support programmes, training, offsets and lifecycle costs which would determine the winner. The race though is expected to be close.

Asked if the Eurofighter and Rafale were superior in technologies to the other four contenders - the Boeing F/A 18IN Super Hornet, the Lockheed Martin F-16IN, the Swedish Gripen and Russian MiG-29, the air chief said: "In all fairness, all the six aircraft in the competition were good, and more or less close to one another in performance. But some of them had to be out, and some had to be in, and that's it. Let's say that the two European finalists were the most-compliant in the 600-plus parameters that the IAF selection team had set."