New Delhi: India will begin field trials in August to buy 126 fighter jets, defence officials said on Wednesday, moving forward on the $10.4 billion deal two days after New Delhi agreed a defence pact with the United States.
The announcement of the defence agreement came at the end of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to India, which aimed to deepen ties and advance defence and civilian nuclear cooperation.
Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, France’s Dassault Rafale, Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a consortium of European companies, are all ready for the trials, Indian defence officials said.
“The trials will begin in August and will take nearly a year to complete tests in all weather conditions,” defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said.
The trials for one of the biggest defence contracts currently in play got delayed by India’s April-May elections.
Opposition parties during the campaign pressed a longstanding objection to signing a defence pact with the US, which Washington wanted to ensure its sophisticated weapons were not given to third countries and were used as intended.
This week, the two countries agreed on an end-use monitoring (EUM) pact, a development welcomed by Lockheed and Boeing, the two US companies competing for the contract.
“This signals an era of increased defence cooperation between the US and India and we look forward to supporting the requirements of the Indian armed services,” said Richard Kirkland, president for Lockheed Martin in South Asia.
Boeing said the “landmark pact” would make it easier to share important US defence technology with India.
“Boeing looks forward to working within the framework of this agreement to support India in modernising its defence forces,” the company said in a statement.
Lockheed last year sold six C-130J military transport planes to India for about $1.1 billion, while its US-based rival Boeing has already sealed a $2.1 billion deal to sell eight maritime patrol aircraft.
Both companies along with the Eurofighter Typhoon are the frontrunners, three senior air force officials said privately.
India is one of the world’s biggest arms importers, and its government plans to spend more than $30 billion over the next five years to upgrade its largely Soviet-era arsenal to counter potential threats from Pakistan and China.
Talks between Indian officials and the bidders have been held to work out the trials, and test pilots have been chosen, air force officials said.
The trials to test the planes’ manoeuvrability and effectiveness will be done in phases in various weather conditions, defence officials said.