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India’s MMRCA battle enters the final rounds

A shortlist for India's medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition is to be drawn up in April or May.

Valued at around $10 billion, the requirement is for 126 aircraft, of which 18 will be sold as flyaways. The remaining 108 will be co-manufactured with India's Hindustan Aeronautics. Six aircraft types are involved in the fighter contest.

"All the technical evaluations are done," says an industry source. "The next stage will be a downselect, likely in April or May after the Aero India show [9-13 February]. This will determine which aircraft go into contract negotiations."

Another source, however, indicates that there is no fixed number of aircraft for the shortlist, and that all six aircraft types could, in theory at least, advance to the contract stage.

The six contenders are the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60, Saab Gripen, and RSK MiG-35.

The evaluation process has been long and arduous. An initial tender stipulated 660 requirements, and the initial proposals issued by the airframers ran to 5,000-6,000 pages each. Comprehensive field tests of the individual aircraft were then undertaken.

The field tests included flying the aircraft - borrowed from various air forces - to India at the expense of the manufacturers. There they were subjected to batteries of tests that reflect India's varied geography of tropical, desert, and mountainous regions.

Tests took place at Bangalore (a tropical region), Jaisalmer (desert), and the Himalayan air base of Leh, said to be the highest operational air base in the world.

"We spent quite a lot on the tests with no guarantee of a sale," says an executive involved in the race. "That said, the air force got a very good impression of all the aircraft."

Typically, India seeks offsets of 30% for defence programmes, but the requirement has been raised to 50% for the MMRCA as the nation targets job creation and technology transfer.

Hindustan Aeronautics chairman Ashok Nayak says that development of the production capacity required to produce the eventual MMRCA winner is already under way.

"We will have to set up new infrastructure for this," says Nayak. "It won't happen in one of our existing factories, but hopefully will still be in Bangalore."

He estimates that Hindustan Aeronautics alone will employ 3,500 to produce the MMRCA, and that it will take about three years to set up the facility.

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