India is offering to buy hundreds of fighter planes from foreign defense firms provided that they are manufactured in the country, with a local partner.
A deal for 200 single-engine planes produced in India could cost about $13 to $15 billion. The deal could probably rise to 300 as it phases out ageing Soviet-era aircraft, various local media reported Saturday.
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, presently a third less than required to face both China and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the current government wants any further military planes to be built in India and in collaboration with domestic partner to start a domestic aircraft industry.
Lockheed Martin expressed its interest in setting up a production line for its F-16 plane in India for not just the Indian military, but also for export.
Similarly 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.
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 official said.
"We are testing the waters, testing the foreign firms' willingness to move production here and to find out their expectations," the official said.