Your firms are out of fighter contract fray, India to US

Taking a decision based on technical evaluation, the government has told the United States that its two companies bidding for the $10-billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract are now out of the fray. Sources said only two of the six companies will be called in tomorrow to extend their commercial bids.

This decision was prompted by the fact that commercial bids for all six players were to expire by the end of this month. The government had the choice of asking all six to extend their commercial bids and keep the suspense alive. But given the deep interest being shown by the political leaderships of the countries behind the bidders, the government possibly thought it appropriate not to prolong the decision-making process.

US President Barack Obama had taken this up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to India and followed it up with a letter highlighting this contract as being important to his administration.

With two players — Lockheed Martin and Boeing — in the fray, US authorities were extremely hopeful and had been stepping up political pressure. This was also the key issue brought up at the meeting of the Indo-US Defence Policy Group headed by the Defence Secretary on the Indian side.

It is learnt that the two US contenders — the F-16IN Super Viper and the F/A-18 Super Hornet — did not match up in technical trials. In fact, sources indicated that only the French Rafale and Eurofighter were the two to have made it to the next round and have been invited to extend their commercial bids for further negotiations. The other two contenders were the Russian MiG-35 and the Swedish Gripen.

The Defence Ministry is committed to complete the entire negotiation process by March next. Going by that deadline, any decision based on the technical evaluation process would have had to be taken before the expiry of the commercial bids.

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