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By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has offered to sell 18 light-combat aircraft (LCA) "Tejas" to Malaysia, the defence ministry said on Friday, adding that Argentina, Australia, Egypt, the United States, Indonesia, and the Philippines were also interested in the single-engine jet.
The Indian government last year gave a $6 billion contract to state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd for 83 of the locally produced Tejas jets for delivery starting around 2023 - four decades after it was first approved in 1983.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, keen to reduce India's reliance on foreign defence equipment, has also been making diplomatic efforts to export the jets. The Tejas has been beset by design and other challenges, and was once rejected by the Indian Navy as too heavy.
The defence ministry told parliament that Hindustan Aeronautics in October last year responded to a request for proposal from the Royal Malaysian Air Force for 18 jets, offering to sell the two-seater variant of Tejas https://hal-india.co.in/Product_Details.aspx?Mkey=54&lKey=&CKey=20.
"Other countries which have evinced interest in the LCA aircraft are: Argentina, Australia, Egypt, USA, Indonesia, and Philippines," India's junior defence minister, Ajay Bhatt, told members of parliament in a written reply.
He said the country was also working on manufacturing a stealth fighter jet, but declined to given a timeline citing national security concerns.
Britain said in April it would support India’s goal of building its own fighter jets. India currently has a mix of Russian, British and French fighter jets.
India is looking to ground all its Soviet-era Russian fighter jets, the MiG-21, by 2025, following a number of fatal crashes, the Times of India daily reported last month.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Christina Fincher)