Publication: Associated Press Worldstream Issued: Date: 2003-09-02 Reporter: Rajesh Mahapatra

British BAE Beats Czech-American Aircraft Maker to Win US$1.3 Billion Deal on Jet Trainers for India



Associated Press Worldstream,
New Delhi, India

Date 2003-09-02


Rajesh Mahapatra


Britain's BAE Systems PLC on Wednesday won a US$1.3 billion deal to sell advanced jet trainers to the Indian Air Force, beating out Czech-American aircraft maker Aero Vodochody.

The Indian Cabinet on Wednesday decided to buy 66 Hawk-115 jets because of their wide acceptance among air forces from around the world, a top defense official said.

"One of the major factors in its favor is its reliability and the experience of so many countries that are using these trainers," Defense Secretary Ajai Prasad told reporters.

Each Hawk jet will cost India US$18.5 million. A comparable figure for Aero Vodochody's plane was not immediately available.

The deal for advanced trainers, which has been in negotiation for more than a decade, is seen as a boost to the Indian Air Force, which has endured years of combat jet crashes.

The crashes, mostly of Soviet-made MiG-21 jets, have been blamed in part on a lack of training jets that match the combat fleet of the Indian Air Force.

The Cabinet Committee on Security also cleared a host other defense buys, totaling more than US$1 billion.

These include buying night vision equipment, communications systems and counter-explosive devices for the army and purchase of Israeli electronic warfare systems that will help navy ships detect enemy ships and aircraft and counter their attacks.

The committee also decided to set up a high-tech special forces team, modeled after the elite special forces units in the U.S. military, Prasad said.

Five executive jets will also be bought from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer - four for the military and one for the paramilitary Border Security Force, he said.

The purchases approved Wednesday were one of the biggest by the Indian government in many years.

Prasad said the decision on Hawk jets "fulfills one of the long-standing needs of the air force ... The induction of the (advanced jet trainer) will improve the skill levels of our pilots."

Indian pilots currently learn on slow-moving trainers, then suddenly graduate to faster and more complicated jets like MiG-21s. At least 52 Indian Air Force pilots have died in more than 100 crashes in the past six years.

Most of the crashes were blamed on pilot error.

The air force plan to buy the Hawks had been dogged by bureaucratic delays and hectic lobbying by potential suppliers.

The deal was also delayed by sanctions imposed by Western nations after India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

When U.S. sanctions were lifted in September 2001, after India joined the U.S.-led global war on terrorism, Czech-American aircraft maker Aero Vodochody joined the race showcasing its L159B training jets.

Washington has since been pressuring New Delhi to consider the newer L159B, which its manufacturer claims is better and cheaper than the Hawk.

Indian officials said only that they had evaluated that jet.

Out of the 66 Hawk jets, BAE Systems will supply 24 while the rest it will manufacture in India under a technology transfer agreement with a domestic aircraft maker.

The first batch of jets will be delivered in about three years.

With acknowledgement to Associated Press Worldstream, New Delhi, India.