Friday, June 3, 2011

India sets deadline for jet contract

NEW DELHI, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- India's defense minister has suggested that New Delhi may award a $10 billion contract for medium multi-role combat aircraft by the end of the year.

M.M. Pallam Raju, minister of state for defense, said the bidding could be decided by December. His remarks came on the sidelines of a conference of industrialist in India.

"I am hopeful of awarding it by the end of this year," Raju said.

The announcement came as India, earlier this month, joined the select club of countries making a fighter jet from scratch, receiving operational clearance for its first lightweight indigenous multi-role Light Combat Aircraft.

Dubbed Tejas, the new fighter project is said to have been conceived 27 years ago as a replacement for the air force's MiG-21 fleet. It was conceived and designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency of the Defense Research and Development Organization's and manufactured at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The medium multi-role aircraft program concerns the purchase of 126 planes and is bogged by delays, running late in its anticipated short-listing of aircraft after flight trials last year.

Already six contenders have undergone field evaluations, flight trials and ground tests.

Still, in his comments Raju said a comparative analysis had yet to be conducted by defense ministry experts to proceed with compiling a contractor shortlist.

The contenders include U.S. fighter jets Boeing's F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin's F-16; as well as the Rafale, built by France's Dassault; the MiG-35, built by RAC MiG of Russia; the Eurofighter Typhoon; and the Gripen, built by Saab of Sweden.

Earlier this week, reports from India said the specific file concerning the interested vendors had gone missing.
"The file has got nothing Earth-shattering and it has nothing to do with national security," said Indian air force Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said.

Determined to increase its defenses and become a regional superpower, India plans to spend up to $30 billion on its military by 2012. In recent months, also, it inducted a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile into its armed forces, unveiling a defense spending budget spiked by 24 percent since last year.

The moves have Pakistan fretting, with leading officials billing India's drive a "massive militarization."

In recent weeks, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has advocated for U.S. fighter aircraft manufacturers saying the United State is a willing and capable defense partner.