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India invites bids for fighter jets from six firms

A MiG-35 takes off during the 'Aero India 2007' air show from the Yelahanka air force station on the outskirts of Bangalore, February 7, 2007. India invited bids on Tuesday from six defence manufacturers, including from the makers of MiG-35, for 126 fighter jets, as part of its plan to modernise the country's air force. REUTERS/Vijay Mathur/Files

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India invited bids on Tuesday from six defence manufacturers for 126 fighter jets, one of the world’s biggest military aircraft deals, as part of its plan to modernise the country’s ageing air force.

Preliminary offers to supply the aircraft -- valued at 420 billion rupees ($10.24 billion) -- were sought from the makers of Russia’s MiG-35 and France’s Rafale fighter, and Sweden’s Saab, which builds the JAS-39 Gripen.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of European aircraft firms, have also made it to the shortlist.

“The proposals from the likely contenders would first be technically evaluated by a professional team to check for compliance with Indian Air Force’s operational requirements and other conditions,” the statement said.

“Extensive field trials would be carried out to evaluate the performance.”

The first 18 aircraft would be made overseas and flown to India, while the rest would be manufactured under transfer of technology licences in India, a defence ministry spokesman told Reuters.

India’s air force, made up mostly of vintage Russian MiG jets, is getting depleted and could lose its edge over rival Pakistan if old planes are not replaced fast, analysts say.

However, India’s defence deals are known to make slow progress and the first planes under the new deal may not arrive for another five years or so, they say.

Some defence analysts have said that geopolitical concerns could override technical issues, leading India to pick an American aircraft as New Delhi and Washington push their strategic ties and seal a new friendship.