Boeing sees 2-year wait for world’s biggest fighter jet deal

SINGAPOREIt could be another two years before India picks the winner of the world’s biggest combat aircraft order, according to a senior Boeing Co executive.

Boeing is well placed in the race to supply the Indian Air Force with 110 fighter jets, Gene Cunningham, Boeing VP of global defence sales, told Bloomberg News on Sunday on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore. The company is a finalist in a separate competition to supply the Indian navy with 57 fighter jets.

“We have gotten to know Indian industry, understand the Indian process,” Cunningham said.

The tender for 110 combat aircraft mandates building at least 85% of the order locally. The deal is likely to be at least US$15 billion (RM60 billion).

Boeing said in April that it would partner with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd to manufacture the F/A-18 Super Hornet in India at a new facility, which can also be used for other requirements. Other companies in the running include Lockheed Martin Corp, Saab AB and BAE Systems plc.

“We’ll throw our hat into the ring,” Alan Garwood, BAE’s director for group business development, said in an interview on Sunday. “We’ve seen the requirement and we’ve said we’ll put some sort of tender in.”

The British defence and aerospace company makes the twin-engine Eurofighter Typhoon jet. Garwood said BAE had been making aircraft in India for 70 years, a key advantage given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s requirement that the new jets be made in India.

“We have good relationships with industry and government there,” Garwood said.

Getting new aircraft is crucial for Modi as the South Asian nation faces increased risks from neighbouring Pakistan and China at a time when the Russian MiG fighters — India’s mainstay — are being phased out. The defence industry is a key part of Modi’s “Make in India” policy, which aims to promote domestic manufacturing.

After scrapping an order with Dassault Aviation for 126 Rafale jets worth US$11 billion in 2015, a process that took nearly a decade, Modi’s administration bought 36 jets separately to speed up the process. Under the new tender, the winner will have to deliver the first jet within three years of securing the contract.

India had previously said it was looking to replace its current fleet of combat aircraft with a single-engine jet, but subsequently announced that it would also consider twin-engine aircraft such as Boeing’s twin-engine F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Boeing’s Cunningham said the change in direction meant that the timing of the Indian Air Force process was now about 12 months later than the Indian Navy.

“Certainly today, the Indian Navy timeline will conclude sooner than the Indian Air Force,” Cunningham said. “They would appear to us to be sequential, but I’m not assuming that they’re related.” — Bloomberg