NEW DELHI — Saab of Sweden and Indian infrastructure conglomerate Adani Group have forged a partnership to build Gripen E aircraft and work on other aerospace programs in the Asian country.

The Sept. 1 announcement means India’s single-engine fighter aircraft competition worth $12 billion is now shortlisted between the Saab-Adani partnership and Lockheed Martin of the U.S. in a tie-up with India’s Tata Advanced Systems Limited.

”The intended collaboration would encompass design, development and production of Gripen for India and other high-tech products of national importance for India and also the creation of joint ventures in India in line with and in support of the Make In India policy,” according to a Saab news release.

Lockheed Martin is pitching its F-16 Block 70 aircraft, whereas Saab is fielding the upgraded Gripen E in response to the expression of interest sent to select aerospace companies through foreign Indian embassies in November 2016.

“Our plans in India are to create a new defense eco-system that would involve many partners, vendors and suppliers. To achieve this, we need a strong Indian partner who can help create the framework for the infrastructure and eco-system to come into place,” said Håkan Buskhe, CEO and president of Saab.

The president of Adani group, Gautam Adani, said: “We are proud of our enduring relationship with Saab and look forward to partnering in major projects such as Gripen. Our various collaborations in aerospace and defence sectors will help establish new production lines in India, generate employment and build sustainable skills.”

Tata Advanced Systems Limited, a subsidiary of Tata Group, inked a memorandum of understanding at the Paris Air Show on June 19 with Lockheed Martin to enter the single-engine fighter competition.

The timeline for the fighter aircraft program, however, remains unclear, as only the expression of interest has been issued. An Indian Ministry of Defence official disclosed last week that a request for information will soon be issued to both Lockheed Martin and Saab.

Since the single-engine fighter program is under a newly announced Strategic Partnership policy, the request for proposal would follow the RFI. Then overseas original equipment manufacturers will be short listed by the MoD based on their respective willingness to transfer technology to the domestic company.

Both Lockheed Martin and Saab have offered to transfer technology to India.

An Indian Air Force official said on condition of anonymity that the RFP can only be expected at the end 2018 or close to the next general elections in 2019.

In the meantime, the Indian companies Adani Group and Tata Advanced Systems Limited will be formally selected by the MoD as strategic partners.

Incidentally, both the F-16 and Gripen NG were rejected earlier during the technical evaluation exercise in 2010 in the now-quashed Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft tender. The latest offers come with improved versions.

Jan Widerstrom, chairman of Saab India, told defense News: ”We plan to set up full manufacturing facility with full transfer of state-of-the-art technology to build an a robust aerospace ecosystem in India.”

The Air Force official, however, noted that the purchase of a single-engine fighter is the surest way to quickly check the falling fleet strength of the service, as it needs about 45 squadrons but is currently at 33 squadrons.

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