M A I N   N E W S

Dogfight in the sky, on the ground
Deal for fighter planes after Budget session
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

New Delhi, February 9
All eyes at the five-day Aero India show in Bangalore are on the six manufacturers of fighter planes in the race to bag the $10 billion (over Rs 45,000 crore) deal for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. The planes are to be inducted from 2015 onwards.

Defence Minister A K Antony on Wednesday informed that the deal would be finalised in the next financial year beginning April. He also added for good measure that there would be no political interference.

The MMRCA deal, however, is awaiting a “political decision” after the end of a technical evaluation of the aircraft and its weaponry. While the process of procurement was initiated in 2007, the Bangalore show is seen as the “final opportunity” for the six rival firms to showcase their fighters.

The inevitable lobbying, however, has been marred by one controversy after another. Media reports in 2009 had suggested that a folder containing crucial details related to technical details of the competing fighter planes had “mysteriously” reached the Headquarters of Lockheed Martin in the US and, equally mysteriously, was sent back to the Ministry of Defence.

The Lockheed Martin spokesman in India, Anupama Kalra, told The Tribune, “The reports were absolutely baseless and the company has never been in possession of unauthorised or classified documents.” She also denied reports that then India CEO Douglas Hartwick’s departure from the country had anything to do with the controversy. Kalra said the transfer of the CEO was a routine exercise and the company never received any communication from the Indian government regarding him.

But in the second week of December 2010, an even more shocking incident took place and has been confirmed by the defence establishment. A classified file related to the “offset proposals” was found by the roadside in the Khel Gaon area in New Delhi. An IAF spokesman said a high-level inquiry had been ordered into this “lost and found” file incident. Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, however, asserted that the file did not contain any sensitive or classified information.

The offsets are an arrangement between the government and a foreign defence supplier, which aim at getting some benefits of the contract back into the country.

The Eurofighter aircraft is said to be ahead in the race while the runner-up is said to be the French fighter Rafale. The fighter pilots’ choice is said to be the Swedish Gripen.

The IAF has shortlisted Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Super Viper, Boeing’s Super Hornet, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company’s Eurofighter Typhoon, French D'assault's Rafale, Swedish Saab's Gripen and the Russian MiG-35.

(With inputs from Shubhadeep Choudhury)





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