Eurofighter Typhoon (left) and Dassault Rafale

Six global firms are set to respond to an Indian Air Force request for information to build 110 planes locally

India’s hunt for new fighter jets is starting to take shape with six global firms set to respond to an Indian Air Force request for information (RFI) to build 110 planes locally, four people familiar with the development said.

The six defence contractors who are responding to the request are Boeing (which makes the F/A-18), Lockheed Martin (F-16), Dassault Aviation (Rafale), Eurofighter consortium of BAE Systems, Airbus Group and Leonardo (Eurofighter Typhoon), Russian Aircraft Corp (MiG 35), and Saab (Gripen). The firms are the same that participated in a previous bid to supply 126 fighter jets to IAF. But the 2007 tender stood cancelled after PM Narendra Modi declared in April 2015 that India would buy 36 Rafales from France under a government-to-government deal. The companies are expected to submit their responses to the defence ministry by the July 6 deadline, the people said.

“Technology has evolved significantly over the last decade and we expect the manufacturers to offer upgraded platforms,” said a senior IAF officer who did not wish to be named.

The manufacturers will compete by stitching up alliances with Indian firms under the government’s “strategic partnership” model. As per the RFI, 16 planes are to be bought in a flyaway condition and the remaining will be built locally. “We hope there will be no political baggage attached to this programme. And it is important to ensure that the project comes to fruition this time as the numbers are crucial for the IAF,” said Air Marshal KK Nohwar (Retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The IAF wants the project to be accelerated as the count of its fighter squadrons has shrunk to 31 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan.

As first reported by HT on March 12, the IAF wants the project to be directly linked to the development of an indigenous futuristic stealth fighter – the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). The manufacturer that India decides to collaborate with will have to commit to transfer of technology not only for the fighter to be built in India but also for the AMCA that is on the drawing board.

The RFI is the first step towards finding a new warplane for the air force and the makers will respond to it with operational features and technical parameters of their platforms. That will pave the way for IAF to get the ministry’s ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AoN) – the government’s stamp of approval to pursue a military program.