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India re-opens competition to supply 110 fighters

A global competition to sell more than 100 fighters to the Indian air force re-opened for the third time in a decade on 6 April.

The IAF released a 73-page request for information to six companies to supply 110 single- and twin-seat fighters over a maximum of 12 years.

Facing a 3 July deadline, responses are expected from the Boeing F/A-18E/F Block III, Dassault Rafale F3R, EurofighterTyphoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70, United Aircraft Corp MiG-35 and Saab Gripen E.

It will be a familiar competition for the six bidding teams. The same teams squared off in 2009 for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract for 126 fighters. India selected the Rafale, but cancelled the contract seven years later.

Instead, the IAF awarded Dassault a contract to deliver 36 Rafales in 2016, and launched a competition for a contract to build 114 single-engine fighters, which limited the field to the F-16 and Gripen.

The IAF scrapped that contest two months ago under pressure from the Indian Congress to consider single- and twin-engined fighters.

The new RFI re-opens the competition to twin-engined fighters made in the USA, Western Europe and Russia.

The RFI sets no standards for the number of engines in the IAF’s future fighter, and repeatedly references the singular or plural term, “engine/s”, in requests for data about the propulsion system.

About 82 of the 110 fighters should be single-seat aircraft and the rest should be two-seat versions, the RFI says.

A maximum of about 16 or 17 fighters can be built outside the country, but the rest must be built within India by local companies or an Indian production agency, the document shows.

As expected, technology transfer and “Made in India” will be priorities in the IAF’s bid evaluations. The bidders must describe in their responses to the RFI how they will use Indian companies as suppliers for systems and aircraft production.

The IAF also plans to judge the bidders on how much control they can hand over on weapons integration. “The vendor is to provide the user the capability to unilaterally upgrade [Indian-origin or foreign-made] systems, weapons or sensors,” the RFI shows.

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