A US offer of Leased Lockheed MartinF-16s to Italy as an interim fighter until significant numbers of Eurofighters enter service has stirred potential European bidders to action.

The Italian air force's initial request for bids was met with little enthusiasm, with only the US Government's foreign military sales package - based around F-16ADFs - including a detailed proposal which either meets or exceeds Italy's requirements.

Three other bids - based around the Panavia Tornado F3, the RSK MiG-29 Fulcrum with Thomson-CSF avionics, and the Dassault Mirage 2000 - were not supported by compliant and detailed offers, handing the advantage to the F-16 (Flight International, 3-9 October).

The French Government and industry have now delivered a skeleton document for a detailed proposal involving the turnkey lease of around 30 new Mirage 2000-5s.

A full proposal will be submitted in the next few weeks which will also address the Italian air force's insistence that the interim fighter be delivered with long-range missiles if the aircraft is not cleared to the beyond visual range (BVR) Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, as is the case with the Mirage 2000-5.

Italy leases two squadrons of Tornado F3s from the UK, which in turn, is expected to submit a bid based around the fighter but on a revised contractual structure.

While Thomson-CSF is no longer pursuing its offer of modernised MiG-29s, the Russian fighter is the centrepiece of a proposal by an unidentified country. Germany's EADS Military Aircraft and Romania's Aerostar offer MiG-29 upgrades.

The renewed efforts from European companies has complicated the evaluation process and made it more difficult for the air force to complete the review, select a winner and sign a contract by the year-end as planned.

It is pushing hard, however, as it requires an initial batch of aircraft in mid-2003.

Source: Flight International