India's new government to speed fighter jet deal
India will soon hold field trials for the purchase of 126 fighter planes in a $10.4 billion contract that is one of the world's biggest current arms deals.
Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin Corp's F-16, Russia's MiG-35, Sweden's Saab KAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies, are in the race for the lucrative contract.
France's Dassault Aviation was knocked out last month on technical grounds, but could be back after answering queries related to its aircraft, a defence official said.
"All the paperwork is over and a technical evaluation report on the fighters has been placed with the ministry," defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said.
"Security concerns are a top priority of the government and things should start rolling once the new defence minister takes charge," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to be sworn in for a second term on Friday and name the new defence minister in his cabinet.
With a stronger mandate, Singh is expected to push through key decisions including greater military cooperation with the United States which had been stymied because of opposition from his former communist allies.
"Much of the Congress-led government's last term was spent on the civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. while its communist allies objected to strategic defence ties," said Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic analyst.
India increased its defence spending by nearly a quarter in 2009/10 to $28.9 billion as the government was keen to focus on security following last November's Mumbai attacks.
It is looking to spend more than $30 billion over the next five years to modernise its largely Soviet-era weapons systems.
With elections over, the defence ministry will push for clearing pending projects, including the induction of the Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft from Israel to track incoming missiles or enemy aircraft.
A defence team from India will visit Russia next month to speed up delivery of the aircraft carrier Gorshkov for induction into the Indian Navy by 2012.