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India’s biggest air show has set the clock ticking for the subcontinent’s richest military contract: an order for 126 fighter planes potentially worth $9 billion. Five contenders scrambled to press their case at the event ending Sunday, showing off the capabilities of their machines and enlisting the support of their governments before India formally invites bids for the deal.

US giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing are in the race with the Russian Aircraft Corp, France’s Dassault Aviation, Sweden’s Saab and the Eurofighter consortium. Each wants to clinch what a Boeing official said would be the world’s biggest fighter plane contract in 15 years. This is the first time India will buy combat aircraft after evaluating rival bids through a global tender.


According to observers, India is expected to make purchases of more than US$10 billion every year over the next decade. Indian Defence Ministry estimates for the 11th Plan show that the country will spend more than $30 billion importing weapons during 2007-12. ‘India was Israel’s biggest customer, with purchases reaching US$1.5 billion’ in 2006, Major-General Yossi Ben-Hanan, the head of Sibat, the Foreign Defence Assistance and Defence Export Department, has been quoted telling reporters in Jerusalem this week. Israel sold $1 billion worth of defence equipment to the US in the same period.

Israel’s sales to India include the Barak naval anti-missile defence system, valued at $450 million, Hanan said, adding that Israel was not too concerned about the possibility of US entry into the Indian defence procurement market.

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