Tuesday, June 21, 2011

US may re-enter MMRCA race, offer F-35 to IAF

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin may re-enter the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) race. The powerful Senate Armed Services Committee of the US is pushing the Defense Department to offer India the high-tech F-35 stealth fighter aircraft, the world’s only fifth generation multi-role fighter, built by Lockheed Martin.

The move comes after Lockheed's F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet were eliminated from the MMRCA race two months ago.

The US Senate intervention comes at a time when the F-35 project has been dogged by delays and rising costs. There are also reports of the US Air Force cutting orders for the fifth generation fighter.

It's not clear how India will respond if a formal offer is made as the Indian Air Force is already working on a fifth generation fighter project with Russia.

The race for 126 combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force is already in the final phase with the Eurofighter consortium and the French Dassault Aviation that makes Rafale aircraft in the fray for the $10.6 billion dollar MMRCA fighter deal.

The Eurofighter consortium and the Dassault are only companies that have been asked to extend the commercial bids for their aircraft.

The IAF has shortlisted the Eurofighter and the Rafale aircraft for the MMRCA selection and commercial negotiations will get underway only on these two aircraft.

Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four countries - UK, Italy, Spain and Germany - whereas the Rafale is a French aircraft developed by Dassault Aviation.

Along with these two fighters, four other aircraft - the F-16 and F/A-18, Russian MiG-35 and Swedish Saab Gripen - vied with each other in the five-year long tender for the much awaited deal.

The IAF had tested the six defence majors in the fray on 643 parameters and marked them on the basis of their performance in the Field Evaluation Trials (FET).

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