Industrialist Ratan Tata gets into the cockpit of an F-18 fighter jet at the air show on Thursday. After a 45-minute flight, he described it as a great aircraft. (PTI)
Yelahanka, Feb. 10: The head of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik, today said the contract for an estimated $12 billion deal to buy 126 combat aircraft would be sealed in six months if corruption charges orchestrated by losing vendors did not delay the purchase.
The IAFs medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) programme is one of the largest military orders in the world. The air force completed the flight evaluation trials of the six competing aircraft and submitted its report to the defence ministry in July 2010.
The air chief said each of the six aircraft had been evaluated on more than 600 test points.
Naik said a price negotiation team to contract the aircraft from the shortlisted vendor would be formed in two months. The calendar for the selection of an aircraft that would power the IAF through the next 20 years at least was made in the presence of the competitors at Aero India 2011 here.
The (losing) competitors try to put a spoke in the wheel — and then the usual process of a transaction being vetted by the central vigilance commissioner (CVC) and others starts all over again and acquisitions get delayed, he said, commenting wryly on the main reason for tardy military procurement.
If nothing of that sort happens, I expect a contract latest by September this year, he said.
In November, Naik had said it was likely the deal would be clinched by July.
In fact, I am thinking of patenting the process through which we have evaluated the aircraft, said Naik. But since we submitted the FET (flight evaluation trials) report (in July) there have been a number of queries from the defence ministry, he said.
On Wednesday, at the inaugural of Aero India, defence minister A.K. Antony had said: I assure that there will not be any political interference on the MMRCA or any other procurement process. The selection will be made only on the basis of our requirements — the pricing, the policy and the report of the trials.
But military industry majors have been suspicious of huge contracts being clinched as smoothly as the leaders of air forces and governments promise.
Beginning with Bofors in the Rajiv Gandhi era, all big-ticket Indian military procurements have been bogged down, rightly or wrongly, by charges of corruption. This edition of Aero India began with the Swedish deputy minister for defence proclaiming that there will be no more Bofors.
All the aircraft in competition for the MMRCA, barring the Russian MiG 35, are giving flying demonstrations at this show. They are the US F-16IN Super Viper from Lockheed Martin and the F/A-18 Super Hornet from Boeing, the Gripen from Saab of Sweden, the Rafale from Dassault Aviation of France and the Eurofighter Typhoon by a consortium of European companies from the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Each of the vendors is also demonstrating the weapons that can be mounted on the aircraft. Among them are MBDAs Storm Shadow cruise missile, used for the first time by the UK Royal Air Force in the bombardment of Baghdad in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Raytheons AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW C), more than 400 of which have been used by the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.