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February 20, 2002 | 1815 IST
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US arms majors set to storm Indian market: Blackwill

Terming the proposed sale of fire-finding radars to India as only marking the beginning, US Ambassador Robert Blackwill said on Wednesday that major American armament firms were all set to make a beeline for the Indian market.

"India holds out great promises and possibilities to the American arms dealers," he said declaring that defence sales to India were "a crucial element of our transforming relationship".

Pointing to scant US presence at the Confederation of Indian Industry-organised Defexpo-2002, the US envoy attributed this to "something of a lag time" between waiving of sanctions.

"There is something of a lag time because of sanction regime which prohibited arms sales. Now that the sanctions have been waived, big defence contractors are rearing to shift course," he said.

Maj Gen Bruce Scott, Chief of US Army Security Assistance Command, who is heading the high-level technical delegation said he would open talks with the Indian team on the sale of AN/TPQ Firefinder Weapon Loacting System.

He said Raytheon's combat-proven fire-finder radar is the first radar capable of quickly locating long-range mortars, artillery, rocket launchers and missiles, even beyond these weapons' maximum range.

Scott said the system, besides detection capabilities from long range, had exceptional accuracy, superior mobility rapid emplacement and displacement and reduced maintenance costs and downtime.

Terming US defence equipment as "vastly superior" to others, Blackwill said the US Administration had agreed to sell these advanced radars to India and it was up to New Delhi to accept it.

He said the high-level US team, led by Gen Scott, would discuss "technical parameters" of the sorely-needed weapons locating radars with their Indian counterparts.

Asked how he would feel with India and Pakistan fielding similar weapon systems across the border, Scott said radars sold to India and Pakistan were of different types.

He said the weapon locating radar fielded eight systems and its sale would be a total package including training of personnel in the US and guaranteed supply of spares. However, the General refused to specify the number of radars India was buying, claiming he was not familiar with the figures.

Asked whether the supply of arms and spares would not be affected by future embargoes, the US military official said, "I can't predict the future" adding at the same time that relations between Washington and New Delhi had considerably warmed over the past year.

Scott said such weapons sales would enhance the "inter-operability between Indian and US ground forces".

Both Indian and US officials were tight-lipped about reports that New Delhi wanted between 150 and 200 such radars, which had a maximum range of 50 kms.

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