India is close to finalising military contracts worth billions of dollars, including a long-awaited multi-role medium range combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal which has aroused intense interest among global defence and aerospace contractors.
According to Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, the country's move to acquire 126 fighter jets under the MMRCA programme was now in its final stages and evaluations of the six shortlisted aircraft would begin next year.
Speaking at a news conference, ACM Major said, "A number of projects now are reaching a conclusion."
He also said, "The Indian air force is in a state of transformation and we are on the way to modernization."
The competing aircraft have been offered by US defence contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Russia's MiG, Sweden's Saab, French Dassault and the European consortium EADS. The sheer size of the deal makes it one of the world's biggest ever.
The recent thaw in Indo-US affairs, experts feel, is likely to open doors for the transfer and sale of equipment previously not accessible by India. The US has recently ratified the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal, which is also expected to result in considerably warmer relations between the two countries, which have not always enjoyed good relations.
ACM Major's comments also come less than a week after India and Russia extended formal military cooperation mechanisms by another 10 years. Also, newly installed Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is due to visit India in December this year, expecting to clinch a deal for the supply of nuclear reactors to this country.
It is expected that a number of issues related to Indo-Russian defence deals will be resolved in the course of the visit.
"The Indian air force needs the capability to support India's resurgent growth and so we are phasing out old equipment with new hardware," ACM Major said. The air force has already placed a billion dollar order for six super-Hercules C-130J transport planes from Lockheed Martin and will enter negotiations this month with either Airbus, or the Russians, for another six air-to-air refueling aircraft.
The first of three Israeli Phalcon AWACS aircraft are set to reach India in January 2009.
The country has also begun the process of upgrading military installations and airbases on its border with China. "A comprehensive infrastructure development programme has been undertaken in the northeast where roads and advanced landing grounds are being beefed up," he said. "By 2009 we would have our Sukhoi-30 multi-role fighter jets deployed on the eastern sector," Major said.