India looks set to accelerate its 126-aircraft F-X fighter procurement, amid concerns that Pakistan’s purchase of additional Lockheed Martin F-16s will open up a capability gap. “The defence ministry could go straight to a request for quotations, instead of issuing a request for proposals,” says a local industry source.

The fast-track procedure would shorten the time between evaluations and negotiations and, if approved by India’s new Defence Acquisition Council within the next two months, could allow the government to choose a new fighter by the third quarter of next year, with the selected aircraft to enter service around the end of the decade. Five aircraft are candidates: the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen.

The Indian air force expects its operational position to weaken over the next few years as its Dassault Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 fleets undergo upgrades. Production of the indigenous Tejas light fighter has not yet started, and local reports say chief of staff Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi is pushing for an interim purchase of 30-40 fighters.

But one industry source cautions that even if the Indian government moves straight to a request for quotations, it may not speed up the selection process: “You still need to conduct technical evaluations, and that will take time.”

Source: Flight International