Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said at a news conference Tuesday that New Delhi is inviting global bids for a foreign-designed single-engine fighter that would be assembled in India. According to Parrikar, a western partner for the fighter will be chosen based on pricing and terms for the transfer of the technology.
He added that the Indian Air Force will receive another line of fighters to be produced under the Strategic Partnership model. Even though the Ministry of Defence’s Aatre Committee mooted the SP model in April 2016, an MoD official said that a private company in India will be chosen to manufacture the fighters in India by the end of 2017.
Global bids are set to be solicited in 2018, at which point a private company will be chosen as a production agency for the SP, kicking off an evaluation period to conduct trials and assess technical and financial bids. Officials say this process could take two years or longer, with the final deal slated to be signed in 2021.
Sweden’s Saab Group is expected to pitch its Gripen multirole fighter aircraft while multinational aerospace company Lockheed Martin is expected to offer the its Block 70 version of the venerable F-16 fighter jet. The Strategic Partnership concept called for selecting a few private sector companies to be designated as SPs. A senior IAF official told Defense News, "We will submit a new acceptance of necessity proposal for new single engine fighters to Ministry of Defense in the next four months, and will request to fast-pace this new program," adding that the "IAF will put up a demand for 200 new single engine fighters to be made in India, which will easily cost around $45 million apiece without weaponry."
The strength of IAF’s fleet is depleted, as they have about 34 operational fighter squadrons, making them short of the 45 that are expected to be required in the event of a fight against Pakistan and China. The force is also seeking to replace it’s aging squadrons of 11 Russian MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft.
Parrikar announced that there is a proposal to buy the Rafale fighter, after a deal with France was signed in September for 36 fighters worth nearly $9 billion. Parrikar, who signed the agreement with French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian, said at the time that, "Rafale is a potent aircraft and will add to the capability of the IAF," according to the Hindu. The BBC quoted French President Francois Hollande commenting that the deal was "a mark of the recognition by a major military power of the operational performance, the technical quality and the competitiveness of the French aviation industry."
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Given the little latitude that Parrikar is allowed within India’s governing cabinet, and the fact that he was kept away from acquisition negotiations until it as time to sign agreements, it is doubtful that this latest plan will come to fruition.)