India, Russia to discuss new giant fighter jet deal
India and Russia will hold talks this week on a multi-billion-dollar deal to supply up to 250 advanced stealth fighter jets to the technology-starved Indian Air Force, officials said on Tuesday.
Experts say the deal could be worth 25 billion dollars, making it the biggest in India's military history.
A defence ministry official who did not want to be named said the contract would be the focus of talks on Saturday during a visit to India by Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
"These are ongoing talks and will definitely come up in the discussions," he told AFP.
The Times of India said New Delhi and Moscow aimed to ink the FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) preliminary design contract during a trip to India by President Dmitry Medvedev in December. Ministry officials declined to comment on the newspaper report.
On Monday, Air Force Chief P.V. Naik confirmed India would acquire the advanced jets from Russia, which supplies about 70 percent of Indian military hardware -- a legacy of the countries' Cold War ties.
"We are looking to induct 200 to 250 FGFA in phases from 2017," the air chief marshal told reporters, adding that about 50 percent of air force hardware was now out of date.
"Around 50 percent of our equipment is obsolete and needs to be replaced.
"Ten years ago we had no money for modernisation. This caused some delays. Subsequent planning will fructify by 2014-15," he said.
The 30-ton FGFA aircraft -- priced at 100 million dollars each, according to the Times of India -- will have "very advanced avionics, stealth to increase survivability (and) enhanced lethality," Naik added.
India plans to mothball its mainstay MiG-21 Soviet-era fighter jets, which have earned the sobriquet "flying coffins" because of their dismal safety record.
The ministry official said India was also seeking 40 additional Sukhoi-30 frontline fighter planes from Russia.
"The original plan was to acquire 230 Sukhoi-MKI planes but the list has now grown to 270 and so far around 100 aircraft have been delivered to us," he said.
Experts estimate the Sukhoi deal would be worth 12 billion dollars.
India is building military airbases on its borders with China to thwart possible attacks.
"As and when more airbases come up in the east, more Sukhois will be added," the ministry official commented, adding the airforce was also on target to commission 20 locally-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) by 2011.
India is also poised to hand out a contract for 126 fighter jets as part of a separate 12-billion dollar deal for which six global aeronautical giants are in the race.
India is reportedly also negotiating a 3.5-billion dollar aircraft defence deal with the United States that will be signed in November when President Barack Obama visits the Indian capital.
The US agreement will see the Indian air force buy 10 C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, which are expected to replace the ageing fleet of Russian Ilyushin Il-76s, India's Economic Times newspaper reported recently.
© 2010 AFP