NEW DELHI : India on Tuesday invited expressions of interest for 111 helicopters to be made in the country in collaboration with foreign partners, the defence ministry said, in a deal estimated at nearly $3 billion.

Lockheed Martin, Airbus Helicopters and Bell Helicopters are among those expected to participate in the bidding, the ministry statement said, to replace the navy's ageing Soviet-era helicopters.

India has been trying to modernise its military to narrow the gap with China but defence expenditure has been largely stagnant, making for slow procurement.

Under the elaborate rules of defence purchases, once manufacturers have submitted expressions of interest, the defence ministry will issue requests for proposals likely to be in the third quarter of 2019.

That will be followed by a tender inviting final bids from the manufacturers in a process that is expected to take years.

The Indian companies likely to participate in the bidding are Tata Advanced Systems, Mahindra Defence, Adani Defence, L&T, Bharat Forge and Reliance Infrastructure, the defence ministry said.

These firms will collaborate with the foreign companies to make the helicopters in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Make-in-India programme designed to build a domestic military industrial complex and reduce imports.

"The project is likely to provide a major boost to Govt’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and fillip to manufacturing capability for helicopters in India," it said.

The helicopters are meant for search and rescue operations, casualty evacuation and light transport.