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US woos India for big-ticket defence deals

Source : IANS
Last Updated: Sun, Nov 06, 2011 09:00 hrs

Washington, Nov 6 (IANS) Rebuffed over what is touted as the world's biggest defence deal, the United States is going all out to woo a modernising India with attractive offers with an eye on other big-ticket defence deals.

Media stories on a Pentagon report released last week on US-India Security Cooperation largely focused on the biggest carrot - an offer to look at the fifth generation F-35 Joint strike aircraft being developed with eight other countries.

But there were more goodies on offer too from Uncle Sam 'to establish itself as a reliable defence supplier to India' 'committed to providing India with top-of-the-line technology' and 'pursue cooperative opportunities on increasingly sophisticated systems' leading to 'co-development of armaments.'

Of course there were usual references in the 9-page document to how the relationship between the US and India is a priority for both the US government and the Defence department and how the two 'natural partners' are 'destined to be closer because of shared interests and values.'

Next day a senior defence official called the media over to stress how as the Obama administration and Congress work to overhaul export restrictions the US and India are finding ways to lower barriers within existing laws.

But the focus again turned to the F-35 fighter jet aircraft. India has made no request for more information on the F-35, Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, he acknowledged. But the US invitation was 'an example of the high regard that we hold India's military modernisation.'

The pitch for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) came just days before India opened the tenders of European finalists Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the competition to supply India with 126 multi-role combat jets, analysts noted.

'With a potential contract price of US$9 billion to US$14 billion, this is the single biggest competition in the global defence aviation industry at the moment and offers both bidders a much-needed opportunity in a major market,' James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor at IHS Jane's Defence Weekly pointed out.

India's rejection of Boeing and Lockheed Martin's F-16 and F-18 fighters in April was an expensive setback for US arms sales and the US aviation industry and analysts saw the offer of the F-35 as reflecting more of an anxiety to keep Pentagon's most expensive procurement programme afloat.

Ten years and $66 billion later F-35 fighter aircraft is still in development phase, five years behind schedule and 64 per cent over cost estimates.

Reports suggest that given the current budget constraints the Obama administration may cancel some models and also reduce the size of Pentagon's total orders. So may the other foreign 'partner' nations.

Analysts suggest that this could well be the reason behind Lockheed's and the Pentagon's anxiety to increase the client base of the aircraft by inviting Indian participation as India is currently the world's largest importer of arms.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)



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