The Eurofighter consortium – the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy – is considering inviting India as the fifth partner in its defence alliance should it opt for the Typhoon multirole combat aircraft as part of the modernisation of its air force.
The Typhoon is vying against jet fighters from the US, Russia, Sweden and France to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 aircraft, worth an estimated $11bn. The competition is expected to be decided in the first half of next year.
A bold move to open the consortium to India, a nation seeking to build its indigenous supply of weaponry, is a sweetener for New Delhi to buy the Typhoon, which is viewed as more expensive than rivals.
Discussion of bringing India into Eurofighter coincides with a top-level military exercise between the UK’s Royal Air Force Typhoons and the IAF’s Sukhoi and Mirage jets in West Bengal, where senior Indian officers said they were highly impressed with the Typhoon’s capabilities.
“That kind of debate will probably seal the deal,” said an official close to the fighter jet competition who held up the prospect of India as a “major player” within the Eurofighter consortium.
Eurofighter is pulling out the stops ahead of visits to New Delhi by presidents Barack Obama of the US, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, all of whom will press India to buy their military hardware.
A UK official said India had the potential to become the largest user of Typhoon and could take part in industrial defence co-operation at a time when “the plane still has the potential to evolve technologically”.
But, some senior British defence officials are wary of offering any more than a simple partnership arrangement to India, which would leave the core consortium intact while allowing India a role in developing some software and electronics.
Greg Bagwell, air vice-marshal in the RAF, cautioned that Indian participation would have to avoid disrupting sensitive “workshare” agreements between European partners upon which valuable high-tech jobs depended. But he said India had to be “a player around the table” if it bought Typhoon in large numbers. P. V. Naik, the head of the IAF, said that one of his priorities was studying India’s “ability to absorb the technology” of fourth-generation fighters.
India, one of the world’s fastest growing arms buyers, is already expected to agree to co-produce a fifth-generation stealth fighter with Russia.
A defence industry alliance with four European nations would have broader implications for what senior Nato commanders describe as “a new strategic deal with India”. It also reflects the importance of the Indian order to the future of Typhoon and its order book beyond the stressed military budgets in Europe.
BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence contractor, which builds the Typhoon with European partners, already produces the Hawk trainer with Hindustan Aeronautics in Bangalore. Other UK companies are involved in the selection of weapons systems for the IAF.
Additional reporting by Alex Barker in London
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