Gripen International, the combat-plane venture owned by SAAB AB and BAE Systems Plc, plans to submit a proposal this year or in early 2006 to sell as many as 126 fighter jets to India.
Senior members of the Indian Air Force visited Gripen officials at the Paris Air Show this week, said Managing Director Johan Lehander in a phone interview today. The venture expects India to invite proposals by early next year, he said.
“We got confirmation that they will go on with the process,'' Lehander said. “We are talking about India buying new aircraft.''
BAE Systems Plc, Europe's biggest weapons maker, in February reduced its stake in Linkoeping, Sweden-based Saab and ceded marketing responsibility for the Gripen. Saab is seeking to boost Gripen exports as an order from the Swedish government, the company's biggest customer, comes to an end.
In India, Saab may face competition from Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-16 combat plane, Boeing Co.'s F/A-18 and Dassault Aviation SA's Mirage and MiG Corp. The winning combat plane will enter service in about 2009.
The U.S. government has proposed selling as many as 75 F-16 fighters to India's neighbour Pakistan and also offered India F-16s or F/A-18 planes. India and Pakistan fought a war in 1971 and came close to another conflict in June 2002. India, a Soviet ally in the Cold War, wants to replace aging MiG-21 jets.
Gripen will start delivering 28 fighter planes to South Africa in 2008, a year after the sale of 204 jets to Sweden ends. The venture is also leasing aircraft to Hungary and the Czech Republic.