India has at last issued its eagerly awaited request for proposals for a new fleet of 126 lightweight fighters, launching a battle between the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen.

Weighing in at 211 pages, the long-delayed document was issued to potential bidders in New Delhi on 28 August, and outlines requirements in areas including technology transfer, licenced manufacturing and through-life support arrangements. Further details of the project, such as its delivery schedule, have not been publicly released by the Indian defence ministry.

India’s defence acquisition council in late June approved the medium multi-role combat aircraft RFP for release, but the latest development has nonetheless caught manufacturers by surprise. New Delhi’s expected $10.2 billion contest has been in the planning phase for the last few years, and several previous RFP release targets have passed without event. Bidders are to submit technical responses by 3 March 2008, and New Delhi will issue a shortlist after conducting extensive technical and field evaluations of the candidate aircraft.

Required to replace the Indian air force’s MiG-21 interceptors, the new multirole aircraft will operate beneath the service’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters. Full details of the new requirement are expected to emerge within the next few days, but these are known to include an initial batch of 18 aircraft to be built abroad, with the remainder to be manufactured in partnership with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics as part of a 50% offset deal to be linked to the purchase.

 MiG-21 large


Described by manufacturers as the key fighter contest for the next few years, the Indian requirement could yet take on even greater importance, with recent unconfirmed reports having suggested that lengthy delays to the MiG-21 replacement effort could lead New Delhi to eventually expand the size of its fleet to around 200 aircraft.