Fairford, United Kingdom: The Indian Air Force (IAF) will soon have to make up its mind between two fighter jets - the Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Dassault Rafale. Both these aircraft are competing fiercely to don IAF colours in what is being touted as the world's biggest defense deal.
The final phase of the mammoth selection process for the IAF's fighter jet of choice begins in the next few days, when the Defence Ministry opens the commercial bids between the two finalists. The IAF is looking to buy at least 126 fighters for a cost estimated to go up to 12 billion US dollars.
What the IAF has to consider is which jet is cheaper not just in terms of unit cost but also in terms of expense incurred over a lifetime of operations. Add to that the mandatory transfer of technology obligations and servicing costs, and the process can easily take at least a few months.
At the Royal International Air Tatoo - the world's largest military air show in Fairford, UK - the two competitors slugged it out. The Eurofighter Typhoon, - manufactured by a consortium of four European nations- tried to make the point that they have the world's finest fighter jet. The Typhoon is currently seeing action over Libya.
Chris Boardman, Managing Director, Combat Air Military, BAE Systems says, "I think the Typhoon would be a wonderful acquisition for India, not just for the IAF. It is the best fighter aircraft in the world today that goes without saying. From India's point of view it builds stronger political ties between four European nations and the government of India.
But the challenge to the Typhoon from the Dassault Rafale is intense. Dassault, whose Mirage 2000 has been in service with the IAF for more than two decades has had a historic presence in India and continues to provide the IAF with state of the art technology.
Both France and the Eurofighter consortium offer India a close strategic partnership, a point made by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, chief of Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) whose Eurofighter Typhoon jets, flew to India last year for joint exercises with the IAF's Sukhoi 30s at Kalaikunda, in West Bengal
Says Sir Dalton, ''The IAF has a very close and historical relationship with Britain's RAF and we hope to continue that. I hope we can build up that relationship and become a strategic partner with India.''
For the IAF the next few months will be crucial. Despite objections from the four other companies - initially in the shortlist - whose fighters were rejected by the IAF on technical grounds, the process to acquire the medium multi-role combat aircraft has been relatively smooth. It is now down to the final few months of selecting a winner and negotiating a final cost.