India's quest for an additional 126 fighter aircraft, besides the existing Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory of 30 squadrons, comprising 680 combat aircraft, as against Pakistan's 20 based on 415 aircraft, has prompted aircraft manufacturers all over the world to compete for the multi-billion dollars deal. The major bidders are Lockheed Martin, with its F-16s, Boeing, which is offering F-18 Superhornets, has submitted its 7,000-page bid last week; the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) with its Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian Aircraft Corporation offering MiG-35, French company Dassault with its Rafale, and Swedish firm SAAB vending its Gripen JAS-39. The Request for Proposal (RFP) submitted by India spells out that 18 of the selected jet fighters would be bought off the shelf and the remaining 108 would be delivered through the government's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under licensed production i.e. Transfer of Technology (ToT) to the Indian industry. Reportedly, Lockheed Martin has offered India more sophisticated F-16 combat jets than the ones supplied to Pakistan. Lockheed Martin and US Embassy visited the Indian Defence Ministry's office on April 28, 2008 to submit bids. According to Indian media, Lockheed Martin President Ralph D Heath, said that the company had offered the F-16IN aircraft to India, which is "much beyond Indian expectations". Replying to a question about advanced technology being given to Pakistan as well, he said the F-16IN version of the jet would have "a multitude of cutting-edge technologies" not offered anywhere else. The new technologies incorporated in F-16IN include APG-80 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, GE's F110-132A engine for powerful thrust, a large weapon inventory, advanced electronic warfare suite and fuel tanks to extend the range of the combat jet. Asked whether Lockheed Martin would be jointly developing the fifth-generation fighter aircraft with India, the company's president said: "We advocate the path of [India's] logical transition from F-16s to the F-35s, beyond the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) requirements". Lockheed has been offering sweeteners to woo India to wrap up the deal as the $ 10 billion would help Lockheed Martin, which has already sold more than 4,000 planes to 24 countries, and raked in billions of dollars in profit. Chief of the Air Staff PAF, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmad, when asked by this scribe, about the offer by Lockheed Martin regarding more sophisticated F-16s to India, commented that, "Pakistan should not lose sleep over this, it will make little difference" These are brave words, but I would tend to agree with the Air Chief, since if the Indian RFP has asked for 108 aircraft to be produced by HAL, going by the track record of Indian "indigenous" production, it is likely to mess it up. With its bureaucratic set up and disdainful attitude towards IAF, HAL would probably create more problems than solutions. As regards the fifth generation fighter acquisition by India, the only two fifth-generation aircraft in different stages of development in the world today-F-22s and F-35s-are the products of Lockheed Martin. United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark are contributors toward the development costs of the F-35 Lightning II program. If India opts for it, they would have to be in the queue for it and it would be nearly a decade before it gets delivery after the nine participants named earlier. Looking at the other bids, India would probably not opt for the Swedish Saab Gripen, since it does not meet IAF's requirements. EADS has invited India to become a partner in the Eurofighter Typhoon program, but it may find the terms of the RFP challenging. Dassault's Rafale has made no foreign sales yet. Russian MiG-35, should also not be cause for much concern to Pakistan since the lack of ergonomics in Russian aircraft do not make them user-friendly for fighter pilots and will be easier to deal with in combat. Washington's offer to New Delhi that it was willing to sell not just F-16s but also a bigger, multi-role warplane, the F-18, which the US hasn't sold even to its NATO allies, makes the deal lucrative. New Delhi wants to maintain its "natural" airpower asymmetry or superiority over Islamabad. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has lived with a numerical disadvantage, ever since its inception. It offsets it with better maintenance, greater turn-around capability of each fighter aircraft and superior tactics and training. Thus PAF would definitely "lose no sleep" with the Lockheed Martin offer of superior F-16s to India; after all it has compensated the numerical imbalance with sheer professionalism.