Some of the world’s best fighters fought for attention on day one of Aero India 2007, the international airshow at the Yelahanka airbase in Bangalore on Wednesday.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet from USA won hearts as it rolled down the tarmac for its maiden demo flight, waving the Indian tricolour at the invitees from its cockpit. This was soon after another fighter, the GAS 39 Gripen of SAAB (Sweden), touched down after its maiden flight over Indian skies. A couple of minutes later, US major Lockheed Martin got its F-16 to strut its stuff.
Everyone waited for another debutant military jet — the MiG 35 that is flying for the first time outside Russia. The MiG 35, which was flown by two test pilots of the MiG Corporation, was first showcased at the Moscow International Air Show in August 2005. It is powered by the innovative RD-33OVT engine, whose nozzles can move in all directions. This makes it even more manoeuvrable than the Russian-built Su-30MKI, the world's first fighter jet with up-and-down thrust vectoring engines, which forms the backbone of the IAF's fleet of long-range fighter jets.
All these four jets are in the race for IAF's multi-billion dollar plan to buy 126 fighter aircraft.
Aleksey Federov, director general and general designer of the Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC), told this correspondent that "the Mi 35 is the youngest (of the military jets in the race). We will submit our commercial bids. We hope to succeed though this will be a case of tough international competition."
Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, who heads the Russian delegation of 44 firms, said, "We regard this airshow as the most important in the world." He was probably hinting at the deals that could take shape during the event.
The five-day event at the Yelahanka air base, located on the outskirts of Bangalore city, has drawn 500 companies, including 275 foreign companies, more than ever before. Forty-five foreign delegations and 35 air force chiefs are also attending the biennial show, which is being hosted when India is emerging as one of the biggest buyers of military hardware in the global market.
The government's decision to allow foreign and private investment has also encouraged many global companies to explore partnerships with local firms to set up manufacturing and research facilities.
India has never bought American planes for its air force because of its frosty relations with Washington during the Cold War, when New Delhi was viewed as a close ally of the former Soviet Union.
Russian-made MiGs dominate the Indian fleet that also includes French Mirage jets and British Jaguars.