US goes all out for Rs 49,000 cr IAF deal
The Barack Obama administration has launched a concerted and aggressive campaign on behalf of United States's fighter aircraft manufacturers to push for the 'mother of all deals'-- the $11 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft deal for 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. The deal could give the ailing US economy a major boost in terms of both exports and thousands of jobs.
US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who met Defence Minister A K Antony and senior officials of the IAF during his India visit, made a strong pitch for the US aircraft at every opportunity, sources told rediff.com. European nations and Russia are also vying for the lucrative deal.
The Indian government is likely to move toward a down-select, where it will short-list two or three candidates and open the commercial negotiations.
Reportage: Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Image: A collage of the players in the fray for the lucrative IAF deal
'We think the world of our American companies'
Those in the running are the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin's F-16 Block 60, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, and the RSK Mig-35.
Even before his trip, as head of a high-tech US trade delegation that visited New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai last week, Locke had met Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar and stressed that the deal was a major priority for the US and President Obama.
On the eve of his trip, when asked by rediff.com how strongly he would push for the deal while in India, Locke had said, "It's of course a high priority for us and of course, we think the world of our American companies that are involved in that proposal."
Image: US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Will Obama try to push the deal?
"But we are also going to that event (Aero India 2011 at Bengaluru) to showcase the many other American companies that provide technology and parts and components that are used in India's civil aviation industry," he said.
After he returns, Locke would brief the President on his trip, said sources, adding that President Obama may call Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and make a pitch for the US manufacturers.
In March, senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter will visit India to meet senior officials from the defence ministry and representatives of the armed forces. The MMRCA deal would be a priority on his agenda.
Image: US President Barack Obama with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
'I hope that we end up being their partners'
At a recent conference on India-US Defence Relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carter had said, "Without saying anything disparaging about the other entrants, both the F-18 and the F-16s offers include the best technology."
Carter acknowledged, "India will make its decision based upon its own needs and its own assessment and our relationship will go on in the defence field whatever happens."
But he asserted, "Obviously, I hope that we end up being their partners because it would give additional momentum to the relationship."
Image: The F/A-18 Super Hornet at the Aero India show
US will sweeten the deal
When he was pressed as to how much advocacy he would indulge in while in India on behalf of the US fighter aircraft candidates, Carter said, "Our people have explained themselves. I don't need to do that. My principal interest at the moment in this and in all of our procurements worldwide is transparency, openness, so that everyone in India can see exactly what's going on and whatever they pick, they'll have picked for their own reasons on the merits. That's the important principle."
In order to sweeten the deal if India decides to go with either one of the US fighter aircraft, Carter made it clear that America would have no qualms about offering India the F-35 Stealth and even co-developing maybe a fifth generation fighter.
He was quick to note, "That's really up to the Indians."
Carter said, "Right now, they are focused on these aircraft, which are really top-of-the-line fourth generation fighters and they are (of) good value and meet the requirements of the MMRCA solicitation."
Image: A graphical representation of the F-16IN
Photographs: Lockheed Martin