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Jets purchase decision soon: Antony 
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service


A Russian MiG-29 lands at the opening of Aero India 2007 in the Yelhanka IAF Station near Bangalore on Wednesday.
A Russian MiG-29 lands at the opening of Aero India 2007 in the Yelhanka IAF Station near Bangalore on Wednesday. — Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal 

Bangalore, February 7
It was a question no one asked the Defence Minister today. After finishing with the press conference, Mr A.K. Antony stopped leaving newsmen in their tracks by taking to the mike again and announcing a decision on the global tender for the 126 combat jets proposed to be bought by the Indian Air Force (IAF) would be taken “at the earliest”.

Though the fighter aircraft in the race for the Rs 45,000 crore IAF order, including the MIG-35, F-16, F/A-18, Euro-fighter Typhoon and the JAS-29 Gripen are ruling the skies as well as conference halls of the Aero India show here, the statement is likely to set off another tizzy as the Request For Proposal (RFP) is pending since 2004 with Requests for Information (RFI) being issued in 2001. Euro-fighter GmbH CEO Aloysius Rauen, while answering a question, said, “It (RFP) seems to be extended every day” reflecting the exasperation of the international companies in the fray.

The Defence Minister was probably forthcoming on the issue himself as the Secretary, Defence, Mr K.P. Singh, had announced yesterday that it would take another six months for the RFP to be firmed up. Mr Antony, however, did not mince words saying the process of finalisation of the RFP was in the final stages and that it would be issued very soon.

The Defence Minister when queried said India would go in for a joint production with Sukhoi for the fifth generation combat aircraft. He said the DRDO would also be involved in the project, adding “we are very serious about it”. He, however, said the acquisition of 126 fighters would be done through open competition and there was no question of favouring the Russians or the Americans through the order.

Mr Antony also said there was no question of putting the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) aircraft project being carried out by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on the back burner by acquiring the fighter aircraft. We could not wait for complete indigenous products to cater to our immediate need, he said, adding that though there were initial problems with the LCA project it was on track now. “We have no intention of abandoning the project”, he said. The Defence Minister likewise said the Kaveri engine programme for the LCA was also on the right track now after initial delays. When questioned about the Aerospace Command proposal, which was put up by the IAF, he said a decision had not been taken on the issue till yet. “We have to discuss the issue as it has to be a tri-service command rather than an IAF command”.

Reacting to the remarks of the United States Ambassador David Mulford that the offset clause whereby foreign companies have to re-invest 30 per cent of the defence deals in India was restrictive, Mr Antony said, “Nothing is permanent. In the years to come if we feel more improvement is needed in the clause we will do it. But as of now this is our policy”.



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