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Friday, February 18, 2011

US doubts HAL's capability

NEW DELHI: The US seems to have committed a howler in the race to bag the "mother of all defence deals", the $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft for IAF, which is in the final lap now.

Washington has expressed serious doubts on the ability of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to handle projects like the MMRCA, dubbing it "untested and suspect". This drew a sharp response from a defence ministry official, who pointed out the defence PSU was already engaged in producing a frontline "air dominance" fighter like Sukhoi-30MKI with Russia's help.

As per the MMRCA contract, which India hopes to ink this year, 18 jets will be bought off-the-shelf from the foreign vendor finally selected, while the rest will be manufactured by HAL in India after transfer of technology. 

Two American fighters, F/A-18 'Super Hornet' ( Boeing) and F-16 'Falcon' ( Lockheed Martin), are in the race to bag the project, which is the largest fighter deal going around the world at this time. The other jets, which have undergone the gruelling field trials by IAF, are the Swedish Gripen (Saab), French Rafale (Dassault), Russian MiG-35 (United Aircraft Corporation) and Eurofighter Typhoon (consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies).

The Financial Times on Friday reported that US ambassador to India Timothy Roemer, in a confidential cable last year, had held India's aviation industry as "two to three decades behind the US and other western nations" despite some advances.

"The potential for HAL to successfully partner with US firms on a truly advanced aircraft remains untested and suspect," said Roemer, in the cable now leaked by WikiLeaks and "seen" by the British newspaper.

After a trip to HAL facilities in Bangalore in February 2010, Roemer also expressed surprise at the lack of automation and safety precautions at the HAL plant. US companies need to "approach partnerships carefully to understand the management and technological experience of Indian firms", he said.


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