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PARIS (Reuters) - Russian military aviation firm MiG said on Friday it was ready to deepen its cooperation with India, just days after U.S. arms maker Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) agreed with Tata Advanced Systems to build F-16 fighters there.
India's air force needs hundreds of aircraft to replace its Soviet-era fleet, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said foreign suppliers must build the planes in India to boost the domestic industrial base and cut outright imports.
MiG General Director Ilia Tarasenko told Reuters in a written interview that his company had been cooperating with India for more than 50 years, providing planes, service and training centres, and remained upbeat about further sales.
"We are not afraid of rivalry with the U.S. in this market," he said. "On the contrary, we believe that attempts by other players to establish cooperation with this country help us to better understand their needs and better meet them."
At the same time, he conceded that Modi's "Make in India" initiative required some changes in Moscow's approach, and said his company was ready to respond.
"Regarding improvements, we believe that it is necessary to further deepen cooperation within the framework of the 'Make in India' concept and are ready to take the necessary steps," Tarasenko said. He did not elaborate.
He said MiG's new MiG-35 fighter jet, which will debut at Russia's MAKS 2017 air show next month, was 20 percent cheaper to operate over its lifespan and offered countries capabilities that went beyond those of regular "fourth-generation" planes.
Tarasenko said two MiG-35s should complete flight tests by the end of the year or early next, paving the way for serial production once a contract was signed with the defence ministry.
At least one of the two MiG-35 jets would appear at the MAKS 2017 air show, Tarasenko said, adding that MiG met with 20 potential customers during the Paris event and expected to make its first exports in 2020. He did not name potential customers.
Tarasenko dismissed the importance of grouping jets into "generations," and said the MiG-35 was already "stronger, smarter and more versatile" than fourth-generation jets, but not as expensive as fifth-generation aircraft that can evade radar.
"It will be barely noticeable on the radar - due to the reduction of the reflecting surface, the special radio-absorbing coating, and electronic radio-suppressing equipment," he said.
The MiG's radar would be able to track up to 30 targets, and lead six of them simultaneously, with data streaming into pilots' augmented reality helmets to enable more precise missile firing.
In addition, he said the aircraft could take on more fuel in mid-air and refuel other planes, had greater range and could carry up to six tons of weapons.Tarasenko said Russia was already working on new aircraft that would be "smarter, faster" and with increased range and a higher top ceiling range.
"We are working on perspective projects that by some characteristics are ahead of the current perception of aviation," he said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by David Evans