India is offering to buy hundreds of fighter planes from foreign manufacturers – as long as the jets are made in India and with a local partner, air force officials say.
A deal for 200 single-engine planes produced in India – which the air force says could rise to 300 as it fully phases out ageing Soviet-era aircraft – could be worth anything from $13-$15 billion, experts say, potentially one of the country’s biggest military aircraft deals.
After a deal to buy high-end Rafale planes from France’s Dassault was scaled back to just 36 jets last month, the Indian Air Force is desperately trying to speed up other acquisitions and arrest a fall in operational strength, now a third less than required to face both China and Pakistan.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration wants any further military planes to be built in India with an Indian partner to kickstart a domestic aircraft industry, and end an expensive addiction to imports.
Lockheed Martin said it is interested in setting up a production line for its F-16 plane in India for not just the Indian military, but also for export.
And Sweden’s Saab has offered a rival production line for its Gripen aircraft, setting up an early contest for one of the biggest military plane deals in play.
“The immediate shortfall is 200. That would be the minimum we would be looking at,” said an air officer briefed on the Make-in-India plans under which a foreign manufacturer will partner local firms to build the aircraft with technology transfer.
India’s defence ministry has written to several companies asking if they would be willing to set up an assembly line for single-engine fighter planes in India and the amount of technology transfer that would happen, another government source said.
“We are testing the waters, testing the foreign firms’ willingness to move production here and to find out their expectations,” the person said.