India could issue a request for proposals (RFP) this year in regard to a 56-aircraft acquisition to replace the Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL)-built HS 748s operated by the Indian air force, with both Airbus Military C-295 and Alenia Aermacchi C-27J likely contenders for the requirement.
Industry sources at the Defexpo India 2012 trade show in New Delhi said the RFP could come during 2012, following a request for information that was issued in 2010.
The programme would see India obtain 16 aircraft in a flyaway condition, and 40 produced under license in India. One source said the programme will represent a major first, with the aircraft to be produced locally by a private sector company, and not HAL.
While India has yet to produce a major private sector airframer, a number of the country's large industrial conglomerates, such as Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Tata have been steadily building up their aerospace units in recent years.
India could require that the first aircraft be delivered within two years of a contract signing, with the next 15 within the following 24 months. A one-year pause would ensue, followed by the remaining 40 aircraft being produced in India at a rate of eight per year.
At the Defexpo show, Airbus Military displayed a model of the C-295 and Alenia a model of the C-27J.
Airbus Military highlighted that the C-295 has become the workhorse of a number of major air forces.
Alenia pointed out that the C-27J has a great deal of commonality with the Lockheed Martin C-130J, including common engines and other similarities. India operates six C-130Js and is in talks for six more that would likely be purchased under the US Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
The Indian air force has made significant progress toward upgrading its airlift capabilities in recent years. In addition to the acquisition of the C-130J, in 2011 it confirmed it would obtain 10 Boeing C-17 strategic transports. When it has received its full order of C-17s, it will be the second-largest operator of the type after the US Air Force.
India is also in the process of upgrading 105 Antonov An-32s with significantly improved avionics.
The HAL 748 is based on the 1960s-era Hawker Siddeley HS 748.