Pinaki Bhattacharya
02:42 PM, June 11, 2015
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India may take the request for proposals (RFP) route to buy a light fighter aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of MiG-21s instead of doing a direct government-to-government or commercial deal with a single vendor.

Informed sources told defenseworld.net correspondent that there was no immediate proposal before the MoD to purchase a light fighter aircraft and any talks with one or more suppliers were only initial exchanges.

Talks of India buying an unspecified number of light fighters gained momentum after India inked a deal with the French government to negotiate the purchase of 36 fighters in fly-away condition. The new light fighter aircraft are said to be positioned below the Rafale and would be made in India along with a foreign partner.

A foreign-sourced light fighter could be the only choice for India if its own Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) does not meet the expectations of the Indian Air Force.  Last month, a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report highlighted the problems in the LCA.  “The LCA Mark-I, which got Initial Operational Clearance in December, 2013, significantly falls short (20 permanent waivers/33 temporary concessions) in meeting the Air Staff Requirement (ASR). TheLCA Mark-I does not meet the ASR. The deficiencies are now expected to be met in LCA Mark-II by December 2018," the CAG said.

Sources told defenseworld.net correspondent that there is a line of thinking that a foreign partner be involved in the LCA Mark-II who would supply the key electronic and other systems over which the LCA Mark-1 had failed to meet the ASR.

However, given the time and cost the LCA Mark-II would consume to reach fruition, a foreign aircraft, made in India under a 51:49 partnership looks a more practical option to meet the rapidly depleting levels of the Indian Air Force.

Saab is considered to be keen to be part of such a venture and has offered to manufacture its GrippenNG fighter in partnership with an Indian firm. It is in this backdrop that the on going visit of Swedish Defence Minister Mr. Peter Hultqvist assumes significance.  Hultqvist met with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar yesterday. An official release after the meeting said,  “the issue of participation of Swedish firms in defence manufacturing in India under the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative was discussed.”

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