India's highly-anticipated medium multi-role combat aircraft competition could be wrapped up by September, Indian air force chief PV Naik said at a press conference yesterday.
But industry observers believe that his statement was aimed at pushing the defence ministry into accelerating the decision making process.
"We submitted our report to the ministry in end-July . Thereafter, there were many queries and counter-queries. Many of the hurdles have been crossed and we believe the price negotiations will begin in a week or two. I'm hopeful of a decision by September," says Naik.
However, he added a caveat, saying that "dissatisfied vendors" may try to jeopardise the process. "You know how it is. Others may try to put a spoke in the wheel. And if that happens, everything takes its own course."
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© Rick Colls/Rex Features
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© Sipa Press/Rex Features
Observers say that senior air force officials are unhappy that the ministry's lengthy decision making process is affecting the service's operational readiness. They add that the six MMRCA contenders have also not submitted their offset documents - a requirement under India's military procurement process.
Price negotiations could also take months, they add, pointing to lengthy discussions between India and other countries like Russia and France for various procurements and upgrades.
The six contenders are the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16IN, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen IN. Some officials from the companies at the show expect India to make a decision within the next year.
A Boeing official sparked debate among the competitors at the show by predicting that three twin-engine aircraft will make the shortlist. Lockheed Martin and Saab were both quick to promote the through-life cost benefits of a single-engine design.