Washington, Jan 27 (Agencies): India's acquisition of 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft will play an essential role in India's transformation from a regional power to a global giant, according to a report by the Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis on India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program.

The Indian contract calls for the purchase of 126 fighters and is valued at more than $10 billion. Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the Indian Air Force's selection of a new medium multi-role combat aircraft. Competitors include the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Mikoyan MiG-35.

The winner of the competition for the $10 billion deal will also gain a toehold in a lucrative market, writes Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, said in a paper.

Analysing the technical and political factors India must consider in awarding the contract, Tellis argues that India needs to decide quickly, avoid splitting the purchase between competitors, and buy the 'best' aircraft to help India prepare for future security competition in Southern Asia.

Challenges to India's national security are increasingly complex, he says while noting, 'India's air force levels have reached an all-time low due to delays in its defence procurement process, accidents, and retirements of older aircraft.

European aircraft are technically superb, but US entrants are formidable 'best buys', writes Tellis, who was intimately involved in the negotiations associated with the US-India civil nuclear agreement as an advisor in the Bush administration.

India also needs to consider its future force structure in making its decision, states  Tellis, suggesting, 'With combat aviation technology rapidly evolving, the Indian government should select the least expensive, most mature, combat-proven fourth-generation fighter as a bridge to procuring more advanced stealth aircraft in the future.'

'In making its decision, India's government must keep the India air force's interests consistently front and centre to ensure that its ultimate choice of aircraft is the best one for the service.'