India's navy is in the hunt for a new foreign fighter jet after rejecting an indigenously made aircraft as too heavy, the latest sign of the struggle to get Asian militaries to buy locally to grow their defence industries.
The navy last month invited manufacturers to pitch for 57 planes for its aircraft carriers, a multi-billion dollar order the government had hoped would go to the state-run producers of India's Tejas, a combat aircraft 33 years in the making.
India, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian buyers are expected to intensify efforts this year to develop indigenous warplanes, military officials said, due to anxieties that the United States may be less engaged in the region under President Donald Trump.
But their hopes of manufacturing state-of-the-art warplanes could still be decades away as countries need more time to master the technology, experts said.
"It's been long on ambition short on success," Richard A. Bitzinger, senior fellow at Singapore's S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said of the drive. "These things are being done because of techno-nationalism. They are done because these countries perceive of themselves as rising powers."
As part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make-in-India" campaign, scientists will showcase the Tejas warplane at an air show opening in Bengaluru on Tuesday. But the jet remains a work in progress, with only three in service with the air force.
To be ready for the #AeroIndia2017 : HAL's The fourth Series Production aircraft from Tejas flight line SP-4. @DefencePost @SpokespersonMoD pic.twitter.com/DAgnXNhtWC — DefenceAviationPost (@DefencePost) February 5, 2017
Boeing Co has pitched its F-A/18 Hornet, that the US navy flies from its carriers, to the Indian defence ministry, including an offer to build it locally. Sweden's Saab AB said on Friday it will offer the naval version of its Gripen fighter to the Indian navy.
India's top defence scientists said they were disappointed by the navy's decision and that fighter aircraft development was a challenge everywhere, including with the US Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35.
"Look at the F-35, with all the might of the multinational effort, is still evolving," said a source in the aeronautical development agency which is spearheading the LCA effort.
"There are no shortcuts."