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India Faces Challenges With New Fighter Selection

The Indian government and military are currently conducting a competition to choose a new "medium" fighter for its air force. Unlike in past weapon buys this nation is looking beyond Soviet equipment and has accepted bids from major Western companies. The Indian Air Force (IAF) currently operates MiG-29 and a variant of the Su-27 called the Su-30. In this competition they received proposals from MiG, Eurofighter, SAAB, Boeing, Dassault and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft proposed run the gamut of existing production fighters from Rafaeles to F-18 and Gripens.

This contract is one of the next major buys of these types of combat aircraft and in the current financial situation of the U.S. and Europe will represent a major deal for whomever wins it. In this competition the IAF has laid out a minimum set of requirements and had said that any aircraft that meets the minimum will be considered. It had been assumed that price might rule this contest with the aircraft meeting the minimum at the best price winning.

Now there are reports that due to the wide variety of aircraft proposed the IAF may be considering more than that. There may be "extra points" given to aircraft that exceed the minimum requirements by some margin. The IAF denies these reports stressing once again that the minimum is what the contest is based on. Although depending on the price it might be easy for the IAF to select a more expensive aircraft to gain the most capability. It might end up buying fewer. These are pretty standard trade offs in these kind of acquisitions.

The other option is that the winner may offer very good terms especially as the cost evaluation is based on total life cycle costs. The manufacturer of the aircraft chosen could offer trade offs between price and the cost of maintenance. That way the end result would be an acceptable profit.

It is expected that at least four of the six aircraft will make it through to the next round of the competition. In the end it will be a difficult choice for the selectors especially considering the issues with past contracts and corruption.