Saab hopes to build its latest Gripen E fighter in India.(Saab photo)
Saab hopes to build its latest Gripen E fighter in India.(Saab photo)

Lockheed Martin, Saab in race to build single-engine fighters for IAF in India

While Lockheed has proposed to build the latest variant of its fighter – the F-16 Block 70 – in India, Saab has made a similar offer for its Gripen E model.
By Rahul Singh | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 30, 2017 10:04 AM IST

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to release a request for information in the next two months to build single-engine fighter planes that would help scale up its combat capabilities, sources tracking the programme said.

The warplanes will be built by an Indian firm in collaboration with a foreign defence contractor under the defence ministry’s strategic partnership model, which seeks to bring in high-end military technology for manufacturing cutting-edge defence equipment.

A request for information is a standard business process aimed at collecting written information on the capabilities of various suppliers.

US defence contractor Lockheed Martin and Swedish aerospace firm Saab are exploring opportunities to build F-16s and Gripen fighters in India under the project. While Lockheed has proposed to build the latest variant of its fighter – the F-16 Block 70 – in India, Saab has made a similar offer for its Gripen E model. Both firms claim that their upgraded variants come with advanced radars, superior avionics, new weapons, improved situational awareness for pilots, better operational capabilities and low cost per flying hour. They are currently in discussions with the IAF to understand its requirements.

“The discussions we have had so far point to an IAF requirement for around 100 single-engine fighters. But we will also be looking at building hundreds more for other global F-16 customers,” said Abhay Paranjape, Lockheed’s executive director for international business development.

Saab has also made several presentations to the IAF on the Gripen E variant.

The IAF is also working on plans to build twin-engine fighters in the country, considering that the 36 Rafale jets on order may not meet all its requirements. International aerospace firms from America, Europe and Russia are likely to compete for the project. The IAF is also making a case for buying 36 additional Rafales.

The Trump administration is fully backing US military contractors in their quest to set up production lines for single and twin-engine fighter jets in India. “These proposals (for F-16 Block 70 fighters and Boeing F/A-18 jets) will help create and maintain jobs in both countries, and demonstrate the depth of our commitment to defence cooperation,” the US government said in a July report to the Congress. By February 2018, two new undersecretary-level posts will come up in the US department of defence to strengthen the Indo-American military relationship.

US firm Boeing is competing with French, Swedish and Russian firms for a project aimed at supplying 57 deck-based fighters to the Indian navy. The defence ministry is likely to issue a global tender for the project next year.

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