The Indian Air Force's move to buy second-hand Mirage-2000-5 planes from Qatar has hit a roadblock. Officials say they are put off by the high price. The Government is also in a dilemma as the company that manufactures them is in the race for an IAF tender for 126 fighter planes.
Qatar's quote for the dozen Mirage-2000-5 planes is "too costly for second-hand planes that have been lying in the hanger for about three years," said a senior defence official.
There is also an ethical dimension to the problem. The French company manufacturing the plane is among the four companies approached by India for participation in the tender for 126 multi-role planes. The purchase of the second-hand planes, therefore, may cast a shadow over the fairness of the selection process for the 126 fighters, officials feel. India has 60 Mirage planes in its inventory and the lot from Qatar would have been sent back to France for modernisation before being inducted into the IAF.
The same logic so far has stopped the Government from considering a German company's plea to be considered for a submarine-building tender. The Navy, which already has four German submarines, could not accede to the plea as the company is facing bribery charges. The German firm appealed to the Government to reconsider its offer after the Delhi High Court cleared it of the bribery charges. It offered to consider providing second-hand submarines to the Navy to make up for the decline in the submarine force level while its offer was being reconsidered.
A French company is the only contender so far. Apart from reviewing an escalation clause, the deal is all but finalised. The Government would not want to consider the German firm's feeler because it would cast doubts on the fairness of the selection process. "How can we apply different standards for the Navy and the Air Force? There is no problem if there is uniformity. Let both take place simultaneously," said the official.
Boeing became the second U.S. company to initiate the campaign for the IAF order. While the company ruled out a full-fledged production line, it said it would actively consider technology transfer to Indian companies.
It has offered "Super Hornets" from the F/A-18 family of strike fighters. But officials say the possibility of a sale depended on the U.S. Government's permission. The choice of aircraft sub-systems to be transferred to India for local production to meet New Delhi's condition that one-third of the cost of the project must be of Indian origin will also depend on the U.S. Government's decision.
Officials of Lockheed Martin, its rival, have already visited India and offered an Indian production line for its F-16 aircraft.