Indian navy set to issue maritime reconnaissance aircraft shortlist within days

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New Delhi to step up contest for new reconnaissance platforms, while interest in V-22 Osprey emerges

The Indian navy is poised to announce the shortlist for its maritime reconnaissance aircraft contest "any day now", says Boeing, which is offering a P-8I variant of its 737-based P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft now in development for the US Navy.

Other types in contention for the eight-aircraft programme include a special mission version of the Airbus A319/A320 from EADS, a package based on Dassault's Falcon 900 business jet also backed by Israel Aerospace Industries, an improved version of the Ilyushin Il-38 and a refurbished P-3 Orion promoted by Lockheed Martin.

Boeing India has urged the Indian government to broaden the rules of its offset policy related to the deal to allow companies to look across the nation's aviation business, including both its defence and commercial aircraft activities. "The policy should be opened to the entire aerospace segment," said Integrated Defense Systems president Jim Albaugh during a visit to India last week. "If done right, offsets will introduce more complex technology and processes that India doesn't currently enjoy."

India is also mulling the possible future purchase of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor after its ongoing F-X fighter and army light utility helicopter programmes are concluded, says Boeing. "There has been some interest from the Indian ministry of defence, but nothing beyond that," it adds.

Indian defence officials and Boeing have held initial talks on the programme, but industry sources say the rotorcraft's price tag could be a stumbling block to any future sale. "Even if they get it down to $60 million in 2010 from the current $70 million, it might be too expensive," says one.

New Delhi's immediate priority is to complete tenders for 126 multi-role combat aircraft - the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, RSK MiG-35 or Saab Gripen - and 197 light utility helicopters. The Bell 407 and Eurocopter AS550 are contesting the army requirement. "The Osprey will add to the military's transport and combat search-and-rescue capabilities, but that's not urgent. Talks will start after the F-X contest," says a source.