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Eurofighter may revise bid MoD declines comment: Gerald Howarth

Interview with Minister for International Security Strategy, UK

Ajai Shukla 

Gerald Howarth, the United Kingdom’s minister for international security strategy, who comes to India days after French company, Dassault, emerged as the lowest bidder in the Rs 73,818.53-98,426.95 crore ($15-20 billion) Indian medium fighter competition, tells Ajai Shukla that “disappointed” Eurofighter will put in a fresh bid that would be a “winning financial proposal”. Edited excerpts:

The British media has slammed India’s choice of the French Rafale over the Eurofighter Does London feel hard done by?
We would be less than human if we were not disappointed. We believe the is the best aircraft, which already has service in six countries. No overseas customer has bought the Rafale so far.

I understand that Rafale was L-1 (the lowest bidder) only on price (sic). If the decision turned only on price, Cassidian (the military arm of EADS) will put in a revised price offer. The four nations (UK, Germany, Italy and Spain) can produce a winning financial proposal and I fully expect that Cassidian will be doing that.

Would this happen soon?
The details of the fresh price proposal are being developed as we speak, and a final decision will soon be taken.

Have you asked New Delhi for permission to bid afresh?

As our prime minister said in the House of Commons last week, we shall continue to present the case for the We believe that getting the best value for money would be in the best interests of the government of India. But it is not for us to suggest what New Delhi should do. (Note: Asked whether a fresh Cassidian bid would be accepted, the ministry of defence declined to comment)

The French president says British defence manufacturing is dead?
It is interesting that he should say that when we have exported the Typhoon to two countries already, Saudi Arabia and Austria. Now Oman has issued an RfP (enquiry) and we believe they would soon purchase the Typhoon. But France has been unable to persuade anybody to buy their aircraft, which we believe was rejected here two years ago.

The UK is the second-largest defence exporter, has a vibrant aerospace industry, and a world-class automotive industry. So the (French) president’s remarks were inaccurate. We know he is pretty desperate, given his elections this spring. We think his statement is an example of Gallic hyperbole.

Will Britain’s defence industry be hit hard by India’s Rafale decision?
Had India selected the Typhoon as L-1, it would have had a favourable impact on the defence industry in the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. But we are already working on substantial overseas orders. Typhoon is a continuing programme, whereas the French have slowed down production since their only customer was the French Air Force.

But buyers all across Europe are cutting down on defence purchases… including the Typhoon.

The Eurofighter partners are all contractually bound (to buy the Typhoon), but we are all reviewing our positions in the light of the economic circumstances and the crisis in the euro zone.

So are jobs in the UK at stake here?
Not immediately, no! We have a pretty full order book currently. But we always welcome new business. It is also fair to say that the four nations also see this as an opportunity for a strategic partnership with India. And… (by buying the Typhoon) at a stroke, you would have access to the supply chain of four countries, not one.

Other than the Hawk, the UK has not had many recent successes in India.

That is precisely what our trade mission is about. In fact, our relationship goes well beyond the Hawk. The Agusta Westland AW101 helicopter is being built in the UK (for the IAF’s VIP squadron). Substantial parts of the M777 ultra-light howitzer, including the titanium, high-technology components, are made in Barrow, in the UK. A smaller company, Sonardyne, supplies India with sonar surveillance equipment. And Cobham has been in India for long, supplying aircraft weapons carriage equipment and communications equipment.

What is the purpose of your visit with this large British delegation?
We have three objectives. First, to show India’s corporate sector the range and depth of experience in British defence and security industry; second, to identify the evolving Indian market; and third, to form enduring partnership with Indian companies.

($1 = Rs 49.2)

First Published: Thu, February 09 2012. 00:47 IST