New Delhi : Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar may look for buying Gripen fighter aircraft during his trip to Sweden later this month in what could be the first major defence deal with the country since after a 1987 Bofors gun purchase bombed with the kickback charges that brought down Rajiv Gandhi government.

Gripen deal looks attracting since its makers, Swedish firm Saab, have proposed to set up capabilities in India to make the aircraft in India and further extend technological cooperation in developing a Mark II version of the Tejas light combat aircraft.

Only in June, Indian Air Force chief Marshal Arup Raha was in Sweden on a 5-day tour when he flew in a version of the single-engine Gripen fighter during his visit. The Gripen prospects also brighten since Parrikar had said in the past that the government would take a decision on a new line of fighter aircraft by the end of the current fiscal.

Sweden and Saab are pitching the Gripen E for the Indian Air Force requirement of fighter aircraft since after no aircraft passed the trials conducted for buying 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. They included Saab’s Gripen C/D and versions of the F-16 Fighting Falcon of the US Lockheed Martin and the F/A-E/F Super Hornet of US Boeing. Unlike the Gripen C/D variant that was fielded in the trials in India, the Gripen E has a wider undercarriage that fold into its double-delta wings (and not its fuselage).

The defence ministry sources said with a wider and deeper understanding with the US in recent weeks – as exemplified by the Lemoa – the possibility of acquiring weapons platforms with US-origin equipment has brightened. The Gripen E is powered by US-origin GE-414 engines.

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