The government’s plan to manufacture single-engine fighters in the country is likely to face delays even though the Defence Ministry has notified request for information (RFI) from three firms to participate in the programme under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
US aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Sweden’s SAAB have approached the government as a response to the RFI with their “unsolicited proposals” that have apparently failed to “impress” the Defence Ministry, a senior official told BusinessLine.
This is because, even though these companies have enumerated their plans to manufacture these jets under the ‘Make in India’ programme, the Ministry is keen on plans to transform India into an export hub for these jets, the official said.
Once the RFI is issued, the government floats Request for Proposals (RFPs) to shortlist the competing firms, according to norms. However, the government is learnt to be taking one step at a time in selecting the firm that will finally be chosen to manufacture the fighter jets here.
“The RFP will take time to be issued. A lot of factors need to be ascertained here apart from Make in India, logistics and infrastructure. The issue here is that once the armed forces buy these, what thereafter? Hence, export is a big factor, and indigenisation will play a crucial part in it,” the official said.
Boeing has already offered to manufacture their F/A-18 Super Hornet here with full transfer of technology (ToT) to their Indian joint venture partners. Lockheed Martin has gone a step ahead and said it will develop a warplane F-16 Block 70 exclusively for the Indian market. The US government is also aggressively pushing for these two under the US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative.
On the other side, Swedish SAAB has said it will build an entire industrial ecosystem in India under ‘Make in India’ for the Gripen E. Talks on selling the Gripen E were held during the visit of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to India in February.
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had earlier said that the proposals from these three firms had been received by the government but nothing had been decided. “An early decision on indigenous ‘Make in India’ fighter aircraft project will greatly enhance our operational capability in the near term,” he had said during the Air Force Day earlier this month.
The Defence Ministry plans to replace the ageing MiG-21s with these fighter jets. Last month, India had finalised a $8.7-billion deal to procure 36 French Rafale warplanes.