Publication: AFX European Focus Issued: Date: 2003-09-03 Reporter:

BAE Systems to Supply 66 Hawk Trainer Jets to India in 1.7 Bln USD Deal



AFX European Focus,
New Delhi

Date 2003-09-03


BAE Systems PLC is to supply India with 66 Hawk Advance Jet Trainers after the 1.7 bln usd deal was cleared by the Indian government today.

"The decision fulfils the long-standing needs of the Indian Air Force (IAF)," Defence Secretary Ajay Prasad announced after India's security cabinet headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave the green light to the Hawk deal.

The deal will be formally signed shortly.

Prasad said India would buy outright 24 Hawk AJTs and build the remaining 42 under BAE licence at the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd (HAL) plant in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

"The delivery of the aircraft will commence after 35 months from signing of the contract with the British firm, and all 66 aircraft are expected to (be with) the IAF within the next six years.

"Until the new aircraft are available to the IAF, the contract will also provide for our pilots to be sent to Britain for training by BAe," the Defence Secretary said of the deal, which has dragged on since 1982.

He said each plane would cost 18 mln usd while the entire package including the training of pilots, raising HAL's infrastructure and other expenses would be 1.7 bln usd.

The decision to purchase the Hawk follows an increasing number of crashes among the airforce's mainstay MiG-21 fighter aircraft, which have acquired the nickname "flying coffins".

Official figures show at least 273 MiGs, worth tens of millions of dollars, were lost in crashes between 1991 and 2003, killing more than 100 pilots.

Prasad made no mention of the accident rate of the vintage MiGs but added that the government overturned a French AJT bid in favor of the Hawk because of its use by the militaries of 17 nations including Australia, the UK and the US.

The IAF, the world's fourth-largest airforce, began scouring the global arms market for AJTs 21 years ago, with an initial aim of picking up 66 planes.

The first response came from France's Dassault, which offered its fixed-wing Alphajet in 1994.

Competition heated up in 1997 when BAE matched the French offer with the Hawk, arguing the trainer could be configured into a combat aircraft.

Prasad said the French Alphajet was dropped from the Indian list as Dassault had already stopped production of the plane.

"And that left only the British firm in the running."

The tender process took on a new dimension in 1998 when Russia, India's largest military hardware supplier, jumped into the fray with its MiG-AT trainer, powered by Larzac 04-R20 engines supplied by the French SNECMA company.

Prasad said India chose the Hawk 115Y variant after the manufacturers replaced some of its US-built components with British spare parts.

India, which faced two years of US-led sanctions after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998, is wary of buying critical hardware, especially military equipment, that would make it dependent on the Americans.

With acknowledgement to AFX European Focus, New Delhi.