BANGALORE, India, (AP) – India will soon invite bids from combat aircraft makers for the 126 fighter jets the country’s air force plans to buy, Defense Minister A.K. Anthony said Wednesday.
The deal is estimated to be worth between $6.5 billion and $10 billion.
“It is in the final stages,” said Anthony, without giving a specific timeframe, speaking to reporters at an air show in the southern technology hub of Bangalore.
India also is considering buying nearly 200 army reconnaissance and observation helicopters, Anthony said.
Aviation companies from around the world have flocked to the air show, hoping for a piece of the billions of dollars in defense contracts the South Asian country plans to spend in modernizing its military.
The five-day event at the Yelahanka air base has drawn 500 companies, including 275 foreign companies, more than ever before, Defense Production Secretary K.P. Singh told reporters.
Forty-five foreign delegations and 28 air force chiefs are also attending the biennial show, which comes as India is emerging as one of the biggest buyers of military hardware in the global market.
Inaugurating the air show earlier in the day, Anthony said India’s rapid economic expansion in recent years has added to its role in international affairs, which in turn demands that the country also boost its military capabilities.
“India has been called upon to play a more decisive and responsible role in world affairs, particularly in the Asian region. This has led us to rethink our priorities,” he said. “We are in the process of acquiring fresh capabilities for all three wings of our armed forces to optimize their operational effectiveness.”
The Indian government’s decision to allow foreign and private investment has also encouraged many global companies to explore partnerships with local firms to set up manufacturing and research facilities.
It is the first time that U.S. combat aircraft makers Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing will fly the F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet at the Bangalore air show. Both companies are vying for orders from the Indian air force.
But they face stiff competition from the Russian Aircraft Corporation, which manufactures the MiG combat jets and will be showing the MiG-35, the latest fighter jet in Russia’s stable. Other rivals are the Gripen, from Swedish manufacturer Saab AB, and the Eurofighter, made by BAE Systems PLC, Europe’s largest defense contractor.
In September, the Indian government announced a defense procurement policy that requires suppliers to spend or invest 30 percent of the deal value in designing, technology development, co-production and related activities in India.
“We don’t want to have a buyer-seller relationship. We will buy, but technology transfer must be there and we must be involved in designing, development and co-production,” the Indian defense minister said Wednesday.
India has never bought American planes for its air force because of its frosty relations with Washington during the Cold War, when New Delhi was viewed as a close ally of the former Soviet Union. Russian-made MiGs dominate the Indian fleet that also includes French Mirage jets and British Jaguars.
Despite improving relations in recent years, India has been reluctant to sign deals with U.S. arms suppliers over fears that Washington could impose sanctions as it did in 1998 after India tested nuclear weapons, choking off vital spare parts and technology.