New Delhi: India will soon begin long-awaited trials of aircraft that are in the race to grab the world’s most lucrative fighter jet deal, the air force said on Wednesday.
The announcement ended months of uncertainty over India’s plans to go ahead with the $12 billion 126 fighter jet contract for which six global aeronautical giants are in the race.
Indian Air Force chief Fali Homi Major said summer trials of the six contending jets would begin within two to three months.
“I reckon that they may start by April or May,” Major said.
He said the tests would be conducted in India and abroad.
“It is going to be a long process,” the Air Chief Marshal said.
“Technical evaluation of six top-of-the-line fighter aircraft is a very complex job,” he added.
Major last February extended by two months a deadline for the contenders to bid after at least two of the bidders sought more time.
US-based Lockheed Martin, which is offering F-16, and Boeing’s F-18 “Superhornet” have emerged as the front-runners to clinch the Indian deal, industry sources said.
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company has offered its Typhoon Eurofighter and French Dassault, which constructs the Mirage, has put its Rafale in the competition.
Russian manufacturers of the MiG-35 and MiG-29, as well as Sweden’s Saab, which is hawking its Gripen fighter, are also among the six bidders for the biggest fighter jet contract in 16 years.
The Indian contract includes the outright purchase of 18 fighter jets by 2012 with another 108 of the same planes to be built in India.
India also has an option to buy 64 more such jets.
India, the largest buyer of military hardware among emerging nations, plans to spend up to $30 billion by 2012 to upgrade its million-strong military.