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Mon, Apr 14, 2003

India To Sign Jet Trainer Deal In 2003

Contract For Advanced Fighter Trainer Long Time Coming

It's been a long, long time coming, but defense analysts in India say New Delhi will sign a deal to buy advanced military trainers aimed at better orienting its air force to the vagaries of jet-propelled flight and ending a deadly string of aircraft losses. The purchase will reportedly be made before the end of 2003.

Done Deal?

"Yes, it will happen this year. The decision has been taken. The finance ministry is not going to sit over it," Defense Minister George Fernandes said on Saturday.

The planned Indian jet trainer order is one of the longest-running sagas ever in the global arms industry. Since 1985, India has been looking for an advanced jet trainer as a tool for instructing new pilots on how to to fly the country's fighter jets like the Russian Sukhoi 30 and French Dassault Mirage 2000. The problem is that India has a wide range of warplane types in its arsenal - a problem that has, in some cases, turned deadly.

Britain has been pressing New Delhi to buy 66 Hawk training and attack jets from BAE Systems in a deal estimated to be worth $1.6 billion. The Czech government also wants in, hoping to sell New Delhi its L-159B trainer made by state-run Aero Vodochody, in which Boeing Co. has a 35 percent stake.

Trying To Stem Huge Losses

The Indian Air Force's large fleet of Russian-made MiG aircraft has a safety record that even Defense Ministry workers call embarrassing. At least 170 of the supersonic MiG fighters have been lost in accidents over the past 10 years. India Air Force officers say one reason for the crashes is that the pilots simply don't have adequate training. "Everybody should be concerned about the MiG incidents," Fernandes said.

Just this month, five people were killed on the ground and several injured in two separate MiG crashes in northern India. The former Soviet Union was India's main defence supplier during the Cold War, partly because New Delhi viewed the Soviet warplanes as both robust and affordable.



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