Fighter Jet Makers See Indian Opportunity
A file photograph of the Rafale fighter jet.Reuters

India's move to buy only 36 Dassault Rafale combat jets has signalled New Delhi's decision to scale back purchases of high-end fighters from France.

And foreign combat jet makers now see a multi-billion dollar opportunity in India's move to slash purchases of high-end aircraft, as it could free up cash for any future purchase of fighter jets, including mid-range planes.

Sweden's Saab and America's Lockheed Martin are set to re-pitch their Gripen and F-16 fighters as the kind of lighter, single-engine aircraft that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said the Indian Air Force needed to rebuild its fleet, Reuters reported.

Saab was proposing to establish "fully-fledged production" of the Gripen in India alongside a local partner.

Lockheed Martin may also push its F-16 as a replacement for Russian-made MiGs that are a mainstay in India's fleet.

Rafale-maker Dassault Aviation could tout its single-engine Mirage if New Delhi demands something cheaper, Reuters added.

High-end orders

Parrikar has not decided on how many more Rafales the country might buy.

As such, Russia remains hopeful that it can sell more of its Sukhoi Su-30 fighters, partly assembled in India, to aid the air force while it waits two years to receive the first Rafales.

And the Eurofighter Typhoon jet, made by EADS and financed by a four-nation consortium that includes Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, might also join the fray.

However, air force officials and industry sources believe India is unlikely to buy anything like the 126 planes agreed in the initial deal with France, after all-in costs doubled to an estimated $20bn (£13.3, €18.5bn).

Two fronts

India needs to replenish an air force fleet that now has 34 operational squadrons, down from 39 earlier this decade and below the government-approved strength of 42 considered necessary to face a two-front challenge from Pakistan and China.

Parrikar, on 13 April, said India needed 100 new light combat aircraft within five years to replace the MiG-21s, and that the heavier and pricier Rafale was not the plane to do it.

While Parrikar would prefer the indigenously-made Tejas to plug the void, he has admitted the jet, in development for three decades, has limitations while the latest version still awaits final clearance.

In March, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the United Kingdom could offer Eurofighters to India if France's delayed plan to sell Rafales falls through.

Hammond said that if the opportunity did arise, Eurofighter has a "very competitive offer" to make, according to reports.