India Plans To Design, Build Medium Combat Aircraft

Cost estimated at $2.47 billion.

As it seeks to strengthen its military manufacturing prowess, India plans to design and develop a medium-combat aircraft at a cost of up to $2.27 billion , a senior official said Feb. 9.

The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is in talks with European, U.S. and Russian companies interested in collaborating on the project, said M. Natarajan, the head of research and development at the agency.

The medium-combat aircraft, or MCA, will be a twin-engine plane with stealth capabilities and may take 15 years to develop, Natarajan told reporters at the Bangalore air show. "We see the potential to build 200 to 300 MCAs," said Natarajan who is also scientific advisor to the defense minister.

The light combat aircraft, christened Tejas (Radiance), is billed as the world's smallest, light-weight, multi-role combat plane. The government is yet to approve the project but Natarajan said it is expected to win the go-ahead given the needs of the air force. Finances won't impede the project, which would cost between 60 billion and 100 billion rupees (US$1.36 billion to 2.27 billion) as much as a lack of a sufficient number of skilled designers and engineers, he said.

Bright engineers and designers are being lured by higher salaries offered by private companies in the booming information technology (IT) industry, said Natarajan. "Given the suction effect of IT, you have a problem of a substantial differential in salaries," he said.

The DRDO, with 5,000 scientists, is at the forefront of Indian efforts to strengthen the domestic defense industry and supplement military purchases from overseas. The agency, formed in 1958, has a network of more than 50 laboratories engaged in developing systems such as aeronautics, armaments and combat vehicles.

The medium-combat aircraft will come on top of a light version already developed by the DRDO and built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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