India spurns US for fighter jet order

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India spurns US for fighter jet order

NEW DELHI - India rejected US bids for an $11 billion fighter plane contract, short-listing two European suppliers on Thursday in a move that could delay closer strategic ties with the United States.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Fri 29 Apr 2011, 8:38 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:00 PM

The elimination of the US competitors came despite lobbying from President Barack Obama and coincided with the unexpected resignation of the US ambassador to India.

Defense sources said the Indian Defense Ministry had reduced a field of six aircraft to two — the Eurofighter made by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain, and France’s Rafale.

Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet did not meet the Indian air force’s technical requirements, a Defense Ministry source told Reuters, referring to the US competitors.

India also ruled out Sweden’s Saab JAS-39 and Russia’s MiG-35, departing from a long-running reliance on Russian aircraft for its air force.

Timothy Roemer, US ambassador to New Delhi, said the United States was “deeply disappointed.”

But the message was blurred by Roemer’s surprise decision — announced shortly beforehand — to resign after less than two years in the job.

The US Embassy said Roemer, an Obama political appointee, was leaving for “personal, professional, and family considerations.”

Lockheed and Boeing, the Pentagon’s top suppliers, had campaigned hard for the fighter order and vowed on Thursday to keep chasing the Indian market even as they seek explanations for having been knocked out of the race.

Boeing said it looked at India as “a long-term investment and a long-term partnership well beyond the fighter competition.” Lockheed said it was in talks with India about supplying another six C-130J military transport aircraft to add to the six that India already has bought and that began to be delivered in February.

Technology transfer

Some analysts theorized the US government had been unwilling to transfer as much sensitive electronic warfare and radar technology as India had hoped.

A person from the US industry with first-hand knowledge of Indian weapons purchases said big Indian arms programs of this type had a history of unraveling and going back to square one.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this one were reopened for further evaluation,” he said. The US companies are hoping for explanations that will let them better understand Indian processes and procedures with an eye to future competitions.

In Washington, an official said the US government was planning to focus on deals still in the works and ways to keep up momentum toward strengthened two-way trade.

Relations between the two countries have warmed since the end of the Cold war, when India was seen as closer to the old Soviet Union.

The United States and India signed a landmark civil nuclear cooperation deal in 2007 and Obama last year promised to back India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The fighter contest now will be a showdown between two multi-role European fighters deployed in policing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Eurofighter is a consortium of EADS, representing Germany and Spain, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Finmeccanica. France’s Dassault makes the Rafale.

Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group aerospace consultancy said a US win in the Indian fighter competition “would have been the linchpin of a strategic, military and economic relationship that would have benefited a lot of US companies.”

But it is more of a strategic and political blow to the United States than an industrial one, he said.

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