London, May 25 (PTI): British defence giant Bae Systems is poised to clinch the £1 billion-sale of 66 Hawk trainer jets to Delhi, ending a 16-year wait to see the deal through, a media report said here today.
“After years of wrangling, company insiders, together with people close to the Indian government and UK diplomatic sources, appear confident that a contract will be signed within weeks,” the Observer newspaper reported.
The issue was raised at a meeting last week between British foreign secretary Jack Straw and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who indicated that a conclusion was close, it said.
Bae itself has had signals from the British high commission in Delhi, along with the UK government sources, that the deal was not far off.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, deputy John Prescott and other ministers had taken up the issue with their Indian counterparts on several occasions.
A company source said: “There have been conversations which indicate it is going through the final committee and is waiting for Cabinet approval. We have had very positive feedback.”
Indian defence minister George Fernandes was quoted as saying, “It is with the finance committee. It will be signed by them before it goes to the Cabinet. The deal is almost certain to go through within weeks.”
The order will be a vital boost for Bae’s plant at Brough, Humberside, where Hawk is made. Exports of the jet, which was controversially sold to Indonesia, have dried up, and its unions have joined company officials in warning that without a significant order, the plant would soon be in peril.
The Indian defence ministry is negotiating with Bae about using Hawks as part of a private finance initiative-style contract where the company would guarantee flying hours.
The company is, however, concerned that the ministry would insist that Hawk competes against an Italian design for the contract.