India's HAL in talks on Tejas fighter jet exports, faces Malaysia setback

Aero India 2023 air show at Yelahanka air base in Bengaluru
Indian Air Force (IAF) LCA Tejas performs an aerobatic display during the Aero India 2023 air show at Yelahanka air base in Bengaluru, India, February 13, 2023. REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar

BENGALURU, Feb 14 (Reuters) - India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HIAE.NS) is in talks with at least four countries to sell its light-combat aircraft, though it faces an uphill battle to win the contract in Malaysia, the company's top executive said on Tuesday.

Malaysia has shortlisted the Tejas light fighter jet for an order of around 16 planes, and Argentina, Egypt and Botswana have also expressed interest, HAL Chairman and Managing Director C B Ananthakrishnan told reporters at a conference during Aero India, the country's biggest aviation event.

He said in Malaysia there had been a "slight setback" amid stiff competition with a Korean rival.

"We have not received anything in black and white, but we are hearing that Koreans will get the order," Ananthakrishnan said. "Notwithstanding that, still we are making out attempts to push through our product."

HAL is also in talks with the Philippines to sell its light-combat helicopters, he added.

"There is a lot of interest generated in the global aerospace market. Sooner or later we will have a breakthrough order," he said.

HAL is targeting export sales of 25 billion Indian rupees ($302.15 million) over the next few years, its director of operations Jayadeva EP told Reuters.

India has been one of the world's biggest importers of defence equipment for decades, but it has punched below its weight in the global arms export market.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday set out ambitions to more than triple the value of annual defence exports to $5 billion over the next two years and his government has been making diplomatic efforts to export the Tejas.

The Indian government in 2021 gave a $6 billion contract to HAL for 83 of the locally produced Tejas jets for delivery starting around 2023 - four decades after the design began in 1983.

The Tejas has been beset by design and other challenges, and was once rejected by the Indian Navy as too heavy.

HAL plans to use the General Electric (GE.N) manufactured 414 engine on a second generation of light-combat aircraft, Ananthakrishnan said, adding it was in talks to produce those engines in India.

($1 = 82.7500 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Krishn Kaushik, writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Jamie Freed and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.