Just a month after signing a government-to-government deal with France’s Dassault Aviation for acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jets, India has hinted that it will purchase 200-300 more fighters, if foreign companies agree to manufacture those aircraft under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme.

The Indian Defence Ministry sources have claimed that the proposed acquisition will help the South Asian country overcome a critical shortage in its fighter aircraft fleet. A senior ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, recently told the media that the government asked Indian embassies overseas to get in touch with all major aircraft manufacturers for detailed information on the aircraft they could offer. The Indian envoys in different European countries have also been asked to discuss “mode of technology transfer” with foreign manufacturers.

The official said: “It is understood Indian embassies have been instructed to conduct information-gathering through military attaches posted there. This is not a Request for Information (RFI) proposal as of now. In a few cases, requests have already gone, in some they are about to be sent.” He stressed that New Delhi received unsolicited offers from some major aircraft manufacturers and was considering their offers.

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which currently has 33 fighter squadrons, wants to add 42 more squadrons to its fleet in the coming days. The Defence Ministry official informed the press that the IAF, world’s fourth largest, badly required 42 fighter squadrons to ensure India’s security. However, the official refused to disclose names of companies approached by India. Defence experts believe that Dassault Aviation (France), Boeing (the US), Lockheed Martin (the US), Saab (Sweden) and BAE (the UK) will be interested in striking a USD 15 billion deal with India. If they agree to manufacture fighter jets in India, then it will be the biggest military aircraft deals in the country’s history.

Four months ago, Saab informed the Indian government that it was ready to set up a huge establishment in the country for manufacturing fighter jets and other defence equipment. Later, Lockheed Martin made the same offer, saying that it would move its sole production line of the latest version of F-16-Block 70 to India from Texas. Now, it is up to the IAF to choose fighter aircraft for its fleet.

Meanwhile, Chairman and Managing Director of Saab India Technologies Jan Widerstrom has admitted that it will take time to strike such a big deal. “Any fighter aircraft acquisition programme is going to be very complex in nature, given the number of parameters to be taken into consideration. In addition, a new programme would involve the establishment of a large aerospace ecosystem in India,” he said.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]