India has given participants in its $12 billion medium multirole combat aircraft tender a further two months to respond, after at least two bidders asked for an extension.
Moving the deadline from 3 March to 28 April will result in a truly competitive tender for the 126-aircraft requirement, says the defence ministry. "Some vendors had asked for more time to tie up with Indian industry. Our objective is to get the best equipment and platforms at the best price, and so we want the competition to remain wide."
The Eurofighter consortium, which is offering the Typhoon, did not confirm whether it had asked for an extension, but EADS, which is heading its Indian campaign, says it "welcomes" the move. The other European contenders are France's Dassault Rafale, Russia's RSK MiG-35 and Sweden's Saab Gripen.
Boeing is offering its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin the F-16, and both US companies were ready to meet the original deadline. "Our proposal to offer Super Hornets to India is complete and in the hands of the US Navy," says Boeing.
Stringent offset requirements are a major concern for the bidders. Under India's rules, 30% of all defence deals worth over 3 billion rupees ($75 million) must be reinvested in the country. This was raised to 50% for the fighter competition, but there has been speculation that the target could be relaxed by April after complaints from some defence contractors.
It would then make sense to submit responses according to the new rules, and industry sources say a two-month delay will not adversely affect a long-drawn procurement.
Under the contract, 18 aircraft must be delivered in a fly-away condition from 2012 and the rest licence-produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics.
As part of its efforts to renew its ageing fleets, India has also ordered further licence-produced Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters and plans to induct two squadrons of the long-delayed indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft from 2010.