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Aero India: New single-engine fighters to be star attractions

February 8, 2017 (Photo Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)
A previous version of this story misidentified specific fighter jets as current competitors for the Indian Navy's fighter program. The story has been corrected to explain the jets are only potential competitors because of their compatibility for use on an aircraft carrier.

NEW DELHI — The biannual Aero India event, touted to be the biggest aero show in Asia, unfurls at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, in southern India from Feb. 14-18.

Global aerospace giants will showcase their aircraft with an eye on India's proposal to procure a new single-engine fighter for the Indian Air Force to be made in India. The project is worth more than $10 billion. The Indian Navy is also seeing new fighter jets for it aircraft carriers — an acquisition worth $15 billion.

Saab of Sweden will display its Gripen E, and Lockheed Martin of US will display a customized F-16 at Aero India 2017. Both companies will be closely watched as they are the front-runners for the Air Force's proposal to replace its aging MiG-21 fighter fleet.

"India plans [for] overseas defense companies to set up production line[s] of single-engine fighter aircraft in India with nominated private companies as strategic partner[s], and selection will be finalized on [a] government-to-government deal," a senior Ministry of Defense official said.

The initial proposals by Saab and Lockheed Martin offer a transfer of technology for the indigenous manufacturing of fighter jets, according to the MoD official.

India's homemade light combat aircraft, the LCA-Mark 1 (weaponized), will also make its debut at the show. The Air Force has so far ordered 83 of the upgraded version of the single-engine fighter.

However, the MoD is to build another line of homemade single-engine fighters to halt the Air Force's falling fleet strength, which is currently at 34 squadrons. There are 18 aircraft in one squadron, and the service requires 42 squadrons. Additionally, around 11 squadrons of Russian-made MiG-21A fighter aircraft are retiring in another 10 years.

Aero India 2015
Crowds watch an aerial performance by Indian Air Force Sarang (Peacock) ALH helicopters on the penultimate day of the five-day Aero India 2015 air show in Bangalore on Feb. 21, 2015.
Photo Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images

Another major highlight of the event will be the debut of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's basic trainer aircraft, the HTT-40. The second prototype is expected to take its maiden flight next month.

Rafale of France, which cut an $8.8 billion deal with the Indian Air Force in November 2016, will be at the show, as will Eurofighter Typhoon, which lost out to Rafale in last year's competition.

Boeing of the United States will bring to the show its Chinook transport helicopter and Apache combat helicopter.

The Indian Express reports multiple planes that are deemed compatible for use on an aircraft carrier. They include Dassault Aviation's Rafale, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet , the Russian MiG-29K, and Lockheed Martin's F-35B and F-35C, and Saab's Gripen. The Lockheed and Saab aircraft are single-engine fighters, while the others are twin-engine aircraft.

The Air Force's aerobatics team will return to Aero India 2017, after a gap of six years, where they will fly the British Hawk Mk132.

Organized by the Defence Exhibition Organisation, which falls under the MoD's purview, the Indian Air Force, state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization, the Department of Space, and the Union Civil Aviation Ministry, the 11th international Aero India will see participation from 750 exhibitors along with delegations from 100 countries.
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