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Field trials for combat aircraft deal to begin soon

IAF Jaguar, IAF Mirage 2000, IAF SU-30K, IAF MiG-27, IAF MiG-21BiS. File Photo.

NEW DELHI (BNS): The Indian Air Force (IAF) is keen to begin the field trials for acquiring the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) by July-August, according to a media report.

According to the Times of India, the stage is set for the elimination of the six contenders in fray for the Rs 42,000 crore defence deals.

American F/A-18 `Super Hornet' (Boeing) and F-16 `Falcon' (Lockheed Martin), French Rafale (Dassault), Russian MiG-35 (MiG), Swedish Gripen (Saab) and Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS), feature in the hotly contested race to bag the contract.

These six fighters will be put through the paces in two sets of field trials conducted in summer and winter, ranging from the snow-capped peaks of Leh, scorching Rajasthan deserts (Jaisalmer) and humid conditions of south India (Bangalore). Moreover, the fighters will also be evaluated in the countries of their origin. So the trial result is likely to be out by mid-2010 at the earliest, the daily said.

The report said commercial bids will only be opened, examined and compared after a shortlist is made of two to three top contenders following the extensive field trials and staff evaluation.

With the final negotiations to begin thereafter, the entire process is expected to take a minimum of two years before the deal is actually inked for what will be the largest global defence contract. While 18 jets will be bought off-the-shelf, the rest will be manufactured in India under transfer of technology, it added.

IAF is desperate to induct the first lot of the new fighters by 2012-2013, especially since it is grappling with a dip in the number of its fighter squadrons, which are down to 33 from the "sanctioned strength'' of 39.5, it said.

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