India invites bids for 126 fighter jets from six suppliers

India invites bids for 126 fighter jets from six suppliers

New Delhi: India invited bids on Tuesday from six defence manufacturers for 126 fighter jets, one of the world’s biggest military aircraft deals, as part of its plan to modernise the country’s ageing air force.

Preliminary offers to supply the aircraft—valued at Rs42,000 crore ($10.24 billion)—were sought from six companies: the makers of Russia’s MiG-35 and France’s Rafale fighter; Sweden’s Saab, which builds the JAS-39 Gripen; Boeing that makes F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin that makes the F-16; a consortium of European firms that make the Eurofighter Typhoon. The government has invited the offers eight years after the order was first considered.

“The proposals from the likely contenders would first be technically evaluated by a professional team to check for compliance with Indian Air Force’s operational requirements and other conditions," a government statement said.

“Extensive field trials would be carried out to evaluate the performance," it added.

The first 18 aircraft would be made overseas and flown to India, while the remaining 108 would be manufactured under transfer of technology licences in India, according to a defence ministry spokesman.

The call for offers also has an option of India purchasing another 64 fighters under the same terms. The chosen manufacturer will have to spend 50% of the order value as direct offsets on the aircraft or defence manufacturing industry in India. “As the tender is huge, 50% direct offsets has been mandated, preferably in the aircraft project itself," said people close to the development in the ministry. Offsets are orders for equipment placed by winners of huge defence or government orders with local firms.

Asserting that the selection process would be “transparent and fair", the ministry said the new fighters were expected to have a lifeline of over 40 years or an actual flying time of 6,000 hours, whichever is earlier. India’s air force, made up mostly of vintage Russian MiG jets, is getting depleted and could lose its edge over that of rival Pakistan if old planes are not replaced fast, analysts say. The number of aircraft in the Indian Air Force has fallen to 576, across 32 squadrons.

However, India’s defence deals are known to make slow progress and the first planes under the new deal may not arrive for another five years or so, they say. Some defence analysts have said geopolitical concerns could override technical issues, leading India to pick an American aircraft as New Delhi and Washington push their strategic ties.

PTI contributed to this story