* Eurofighter leading race for $10.4 bln contract
* Source says test flights expected to conclude by April
* India to order new refuelling ship from Finmeccanica
By Valentina Rusconi
ROME, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The Eurofighter Typhoon is “leading the race” to win a contract from the Indian government for 126 fighter jets, valued at around $10.4 billion, India’s ambassador to Italy said on Friday.
“We have shortlisted four to five countries, then the trial process and evaluation will follow. Eurofighter is one of them, in which Italy is involved, and it’s leading the race,” ambassador Arif Shahid Khan told Reuters after a meeting with a senior aid to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Boeing’s (BA.N) F/A-18 Super Hornet, France’s Dassault (AVMD.PA) Rafale, Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) F-16, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Saab (SAABb.ST) JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a consortium of European companies EAD.PA(BAES.L)SIFI.MI, are competing for the order.
Defence industry experts do not expect an immediate decision.
A Eurofighter source said the test flights were expected to finish by April, and a decision would follow.
He also said German President Horst Koehler would visit India in early February to sign an agreement on defence, security and technology.
India is one of the world’s biggest arms importers, and the government plans to spend more than $30 billion on defence upgrades over the next five years to counter potential threats from Pakistan and China. [ID:nDEL380118]
The ambassador said India would order from Italy’s Finmeccanica SIFI.MI a refuelling ship, following the purchase of a similar vessel worth around $200 million. “We are really satisfied,” he said.
The ambassador said Berlusconi would visit India this year and the two countries were discussing economic cooperation in other fields, such as agriculture. He said discussions were also underway for Alitalia to start flights between the two countries. (Editing by Rupert Winchester)