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HAL better placed to join hands with any foreign aerospace major for MRFA project: Madhavan

NEW DELHI (PTI):  Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is better placed to partner with any foreign military plane maker to produce combat jets in India under the ambitious Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) programme, Chairman and Managing Director of the state-run aerospace behemoth, R Madhavan, said on Sunday.

The government is moving forward to procure 114 jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) at a whopping cost of USD 20 billion, billed as one of the world's biggest military acquisition programmes in recent years.

It was initially indicated that the aircraft will be procured under the strategic partnership (SP) model that mandates a foreign manufacturer to join hands with an Indian company to manufacture major military platforms.

The top HAL executive also said the government should decide on the aircraft for the IAF under the MRFA project and it should be left to the manufacturer of the plane to decide on its Indian partner.

"With our infrastructure and experience, HAL is much better placed to join hands with a foreign entity to produce the aircraft. Definitely, we are looking at being the Indian entity for the project," Madhavan told PTI in an interview.

Asked whether the mega project should be implemented under the strategic partnership model, the HAL chief only said it should be left to the businesses to find their own solution.

"Once a decision is taken on the aircraft, let the manufacturer decide on its Indian partner and let them quote (the price) together. It is a possibility," Madhavan said.

"If the original equipment maker finds HAL to be comfortable to join hands with, let it come. if it finds somebody else, let them go there," he added.

In April 2019, the IAF issued an RFI (Request for Information), or an initial tender, to acquire 114 jets.

The top contenders for the deal include Lockheed Martin's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Saab's Gripen.

Last week, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari told PTI that the winner of the mega project will have to ensure the transfer of technology as it would be implemented under the framework of the "Make in India" initiative.

Madhavan also cited the groundwork between HAL and Dassault Aviation around a decade ago for the production of Rafale jets in India as part of negotiations for the procurement of a fleet of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

In the original proposal, 18 planes were to be manufactured in France and 108 in India in collaboration with HAL.

The final negotiations for the MMRCA continued till early 2014 but the deal could not go through.

In 2016, the NDA government signed a Euro 7.87-billion (Rs 59,000-crore) deal with France to procure 36 Rafale jets.

"We did a lot of leg work then. But it is not that we should look at only Dassault Aviation for the MRFA project. If they select Boeing or Lockheed or any other manufacturer, we are ready to join hands with any aerospace major," Madhavan said.

HAL is the producer of the Tejas aircraft, which is a highly agile multi-role supersonic fighter jet capable of operating in high-threat air environments.

In February last year, the defence ministry sealed a Rs 48,000-crore deal with HAL for the procurement of 83 Tejas fighter aircraft for the IAF.

The much-talked-about strategic partnership model allows domestic defence manufacturers to join hands with leading foreign defence majors to produce high-end military platforms.

The policy is aimed at reducing import dependence. Initially, the strategic partners will be selected in four segments -- fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armoured fighting vehicles or main battle tanks.

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