“It is too late in the day for any new entrant,” said a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer on condition of anonymity.
Industry sources, agreeing with the government’s decision not to allow any new entrant in the already closed race, said: “It is a very interesting situation. The trials are over. The commercial bids are expected to be open shortly. Discussions on offset commissions are progressing well. While one government is offering its best machine, it will be India’s call finally.”
However, the source added that “it will be unfair to the shortlisted contenders”.
The government has shortlisted the European consortium Eurofighter’s Typhoon and the French Dassault’s Rafale fighter aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s offering, the F-16IN, was eliminated from India’s $10.4 billion, along with rival Boeing’s F-18IN Super Hornet offering. The MMRCA deal was touted as the ‘mother of all defence deals’ in the international defence industry.
Though the Indian Air Force never seemed very interested in the F-16 Falcon from the US-based Lockheed Martin, one of the several reasons for the aircraft not being in the race could be the fact that fact that Pakistan also flies F-16s. Also Lockheed Martin could have run into problems in meeting the industrial offset provisions, given its lack of penetration in India.
India has been invited to F-35 events. With potential US order numbers dropping, India could have joined the elite programme. However, India chose to join hands with Russia for its Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme, which offers a semi-indigenous alternative.
The F-35 jet is still in development and the planes would cost about $133 million each. The Pentagon plans to buy more than 2,400 of them, which means that at an estimated $382 billion, it is Pentagon’s most expensive weapons programme ever. A rough estimate has it that at $133 million per unit, the cost of acquisition for the MMRCA would go up by 50 per cent should the IAF opt for the F-35. This would inflate the $11-billion MMRCA tender to $17 billion.