By: Vivek Raghuvanshi
NEW DELHI — India's single-engine fighter program, worth $12 billion, is unlikely to be "decided before 2019," analysts and officials say, even as the Indian Air Force has decided to hold flight tests of Lockheed's F-16 Block 70 and Sweden's Gripen-E, the two aircraft competing in the program.
Restricted expressions of interests were sent through Indian embassies to "some overseas participants" to take part in the program in October last year to elicit responses to produce single-engine fighter aircraft in India. Lockheed Martin offered to shift the assembly line of its F-16 Block 70, and Sweden offered to build the Gripen-E aircraft in India with technology transfer.
The F-16 fighter aircraft did not come up for discussion during last month's summit talks on June 26 between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, said a Ministry of Defence official without commenting on the outcome of the talks.
However, analysts and officials are skeptical whether the program would come to an early decision. Some analysts even say the F-16 will never be bought by the Indian Air Force, or IAF.
"There isn't now even the slightest IAF interest in the F-16 Block 70 or any other variant," said Bharat Karnad, professor of national security studies at Centre for Policy Research.
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