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Czech challenge to British trainer

New Delhi, Aug. 30: The US-Czech joint venture L159A jet trainer appears to have jeopardised Britainís position in finalising the multi-million dollar contract for the sale of Hawk advanced jet-trainers to India.

The defence ministry has tested both varieties of aircraft and a decision on the issue will be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

In the initial phase, India is likely to buy 60 of these jet-trainers, which are also used as light attack aircraft. Later, 200 more such trainers are likely to be bought by the Indian government. This makes the country one of the most attractive markets for producers of such aircraft.

Czech minister for industry and trade Jiri Rusnok arrived here with representatives of Aero Vodochody on Thursday to make a bid for the contract of the jet-trainers. Rusnok met commerce minister Murasoli Maran and minister for heavy industry Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, as well as minister of state for foreign affairs Digvijay Singh, over the past two days to lobby the leadership in favour of the Czech proposal.

Thomas Pickering, the former US ambassador to India and assistant secretary in the state department, who is now in the board of directors of Boeing, reportedly also pitched for the L159A aircraft. Boeing is an interested party in the deal as it has a 30 per cent stake in the Czech company Aero Vodochody.

Indian officials said the Czech offer was cheaper than the British one. There is also a proposal for a transfer of technology.

What South Block is a little worried about is whether or not the US will agree to give a guarantee that if India goes for the joint L159A jet trainers, Washington will do nothing to block the transfer of technology.

If the US does give the guarantee that the Indians are looking for, the scales for the jet trainer deal may tilt heavily in favour of the Czechs.

The Czech government has many projects in India, including the Tatra project in Karnataka for producing trucks, a power plant in Chandigarh and the contract for laying the pipeline in Bhatinda for irrigation water.

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