US eyes $40 bn arms market in India

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : Eyeing a potential $40 billion arms market, including a new multi-role fighter aircraft and missile-defence systems, the US is hoping to forge a long-term military relationship with India.

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“A significant Indian defence purchase from the United States – for example, of the new advanced multi-role combat aircraft that the Indian Air Force seeks – would be a great leap forward and signal a real commitment to long-term military partnership,” a senior US official said.

US military cooperation with India is impeded by the fact that much of the Indian military still uses a considerable amount of Soviet-era equipment, Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said in the November/December issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

Noting barriers to closer coordination in training and the sharing of military doctrine remain in both governments, Washington’s chief interlocutor on the India-US civil nuclear deal said: “By reaching out to India, we have made the bet that the planet’s future lies in pluralism, democracy and market economics rather than in intolerance, despotism and state planning.”

Six fighter suppliers from Europe, Russia and the US are to submit detailed bids by March 3 for 126 new combat aircraft sought by the IAF. The US competitors, Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, are hoping to unseat India’ s traditional suppliers from Russia.

Russia is offering its MiG-35 to replace the earlier-model MiGs. Also in the race are France’s Dassault Rafale, Sweden’s Saab AB JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies.

Earlier this month, a high-level US government working group cleared the way for its two top defence suppliers – Lockheed and Boeing – to offer India cutting-edge radar technology as part of their fighter bids.

Last February, leading US defence companies mounted a mission to India to consolidate what they called “the momentum of the recent US-India strategic partnership” and to showcase American excellence in technology, reliability and long-term partnership.

Boeing showcased its F/A-18f, C-17 transport aircraft, and Chinook heavy-lift chopper, while Lockheed Martin presented the F-16, C-130j, and P-3c at India’s largest ever air show in Bangalore. Many other US companies displayed their equipment at the show.

Other companies on the mission included Honeywell, General Electric, Raytheon, The Cohen Group, United Technologies Corporation/Pratt & Whitney, Bell Helicopter Textron, Emergent Bio-Solutions, L-3 Communications, and the Fremont Group.

It was the first time in history that the US government had approved such a large fleet of military aircraft for static and flying display in a major air show, according to US-India Business Council (USIBC), an advocacy group representing over 250 of the largest US companies investing in India.

“As the United States and India look ahead to a new kind of partnership, we in the US government should not forget that the big breakthrough in US-India relations was achieved originally by the private sector,” Burns said.

In many respects, both governments are playing catch-up with the extraordinary business-led trade and investment growth of the last two decades, he said. “Since 1991 – the year of the launch of the economic reforms in India – trade between the United States and India has grown more than sixfold, reaching $32 billion in 2006.”

Boeing alone sold $11 billion worth of aircraft last year to India, one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets. General Electric houses its second-largest research centre in Bangalore, Burns noted.

“As businesses multiply, our societies are increasingly being woven together, thanks in part to the 2.5 million Indian Americans in the United States, the wealthiest and best-educated immigrant community in the country,” he said.

“India is, of course, the region’s largest country and its dominant economic and military power,” said Burns noting: “Today there is more of a strategic upside to our relationship with India than there is with any other major power.

“The rise of a new US-India strategic partnership over the last two decades is one of the most significant and positive developments in international politics,” said the US diplomat. “If the old US-India relationship could barely lift anchor, the new one has clearly set sail.”