(Bloomberg) -- Sweden’s Saab AB offered to build its Gripen warplanes in India with billionaire Gautam Adani’s conglomerate as a partner, stepping up efforts to win a potential $25 billion contract that could be the world’s biggest fighter-jet order in play.
The collaboration with the Indian partner would include design, development and production of the Gripen aircraft for the South Asian country, along with other high-technology products, the two said in a joint statement in New Delhi Friday.
“Our plans in India are to create a new defense eco-system that would involve many partners, vendors and suppliers,” Saab Chief Executive Officer Hakan Buskhe told reporters.
The Stockholm-based company and Lockheed Martin Corp. are in a race to supply fighter jets to India’s air force, which needs to retire a third of its 650-strong fleet over the next decade after more than 40 years in use. But India’s government has yet to reveal when it will place an order or what its options are. Separately, the navy in January invited proposals for 57 jets for its aircraft carriers.
With local production in focus under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” program, Saab is sweetening its proposal and roping in Adani to pit the Gripen jet against Lockheed’s F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Bethesda, Maryland-based defense contractor has already offered to manufacture its plane in India, partnering Tata Advanced Systems Ltd.
Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has encouraged Indian companies to gain technology and expertise through partnership with foreign vendors. He is also seeking to reduce dependence on imports, which meet 60 percent of the nation’s defense needs. Amid tensions with neighbors Pakistan and China, his administration is planning to spend $250 billion by 2025 on defense hardware, including jet planes, naval ships and drones.
The South Asian country started looking for new warplanes in 2007, a contest that ended with the government wanting to buy 126 Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation SA for $11 billion. With talks stalling over price and quality guarantees, the government subsequently pared the order to 36 jets to speed up the process. India hasn’t said whether it will open a new tender for the remaining planes or it will need more.
The nation’s air force and navy require as many as 400 single- and double-engine combat aircraft, the government has said.
The air force is seeking at least 100 planes in an order worth about $15 billion, while the order for the 57 naval planes could be worth about $10 billion, according to Jane’s Information Services.
Saab’s Gripen got a boost earlier this year when Bulgaria said it favors the jets to replace outdated Soviet-era aircraft.