The $10.4-billion Indian Air Force tender for 126 combat aircraft will be finalised in the next fiscal beginning April this year, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said in Bangalore on Wednesday.
The contract, described as "the mother of all defence deals," will be based only on the merits of the six competing aircraft, he stressed.
"I hope the contract will be finalised by next financial year," Antony told a press conference at the Aero India 2011 show.
"The contract will be finalised on the basis of the merits of the aircraft," he said, replying to a question on the tender that was issued in August 2007.
The minister emphasised that there would be no political decisions or interference in defence acquisition.
"The process of request for proposals (RFP) involves a technical evaluation committee and a cost negotiation committee. Only then will the report come to the government for a final decision," he added.
American majors Boeing's F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin's F-16, Swedish Saab Gripen, Russian MiG-RAC's MiG-35, French Dassault's Rafale and European consortium EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon are competing for the contract.
The tendering process had almost derailed in late December when an important file on the offsets proposals from the six companies went missing and was later found on the roadside in Khelgaon Marg in south Delhi.
The competing aircraft have already gone through the process of flight and weapons trials and the evaluation report of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has already been submitted to the defence ministry for a final decision.
To a question about the US seeking orders for the combat aircraft from the two American firms in the fray as a payback for the civil nuclear deal and support for the permanent UN Security Council seat, the defence minister said the RFP provisions would be completely followed and that he would not be able to predict the outcome of the tender at the moment.
"There will be no other consideration except what is laid down in the RFP (Request for Proposal)," he added.
The race for the much sought-after deal has been heating up with five of the six aircraft in the contest showcasing their capabilities in the flying and static display at the five-day Aero India.
Only the Russian MiG-35 was missing from all the action that began in Bangalore on Wednesday.