Officially throwing open the contest for fighter aircraft once again, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that India will select one or two fighter aircraft which will be manufactured locally by a private company under Make in India initiative. This is in addition to the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the production of which is being scaled up. India and France are in advanced stage of talks to conclude an inter-governmental agreement for the direct purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. This fighter aircraft will likely be other than the Rafale. “Under the Make in India process we may have one or two more jet fighter plants in India by the private sector,” Mr. Parrikar said on Tuesday on the sidelines of a job creation summit organised by Wadhwani Foundation. He said that several proposals are under consideration and “through proper process we may select them to make in India.” While emphasising that there will be at least one or two fighter jets that may be selected, Mr. Parrikar said a decision is likely to be taken by year end. “India has the need for that number of aircraft but this does not mean increasing defence budget to cater to the purchases. This can be done by reducing defence expenditure in other areas,” he stressed. Mr. Parrikar said his ministry is in an advanced stage of giving approval to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for setting up a second assembly line for the LCA to increase the production rate from eight to 16 aircraft per year. The Air Force is expected to induct over 100 of the improved LCA which will feature an Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, mid-air refuelling and improved electronic warfare suite in addition to other minor improvements. Stating that HAL has currently streamlined the assembly line for production of eight aircraft per year, Mr. Parrikar said that this will absorb between 10,000 to 20,000 people in the full ecosystem. Even as the Rafale talks are on, Mr. Parrikar had said that it is not a replacement for the much smaller MIGs which are now being phased out. With this, companies who lost out in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft contest (MMRCA) have been pitching their aircraft in anticipation of a comeback into the race. Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the U.S. and Saab of Sweden have recently offered to establish manufacturing plants in India and transfer technology if their fighter aircraft were selected for the Indian Air Force.