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US Asks India To "Try Us" As Defence Partner

A US made F-18 fighter plane flies past during Aero India 2007 at the Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bangalore, 06 February 2007. The United States has for the first time flown in its big guns for India's air show, seeking a slice of a market that may generate 30 billion dollars of defence deals in five years. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Anil Penna
Bangalore (AFP) Feb 07, 2007
The United States has for the first time flown in its big guns for India's air show, seeking a slice of a market that may generate 30 billion dollars of defence deals in five years. More than 50 firms from the United States are taking part in Aero India starting Wednesday, including Boeing, which makes the F-18, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16, General Electric and Raytheon.

The massive C-17 heavy lift-aircraft, the naval reconnaissance P-3 Orion and the CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter will all be in action over the skies of south India.

"A new chapter is beginning in the U.S.-India relationship," said Anil Shrikhande, vice president and country head for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, a unit of the US giant planemaker.

"There are opportunities for US companies, which have a lot to offer," he said, adding that for Boeing "a whole dimension has opened up."

US Ambassador David Mulford recalled that his country's representation at the last air show at this hi-tech hub in 2005, was limited to two F-15 fighter planes that did not fly.

"They were stationary on the runway," Mulford said. "This time, we have three F-16s and two F-18s, which will be flying, as will other airplanes."

What the banker-turned-diplomat called the "heightened visibility" of the United States at the event is symbolic of the warming of a relationship that has often been uneasy.

Washington is plugging its companies to tap a market that may generate as much as 30 billion dollars worth of defence deals in the next five years.

India was the pre-eminent ally of the former Soviet Union, the United States' Cold War rival, and still sources two-thirds of its military needs from Russia, its successor-state.

The US has also been the main military backer of Pakistan, the neighbour with which India has been to war three times since the subcontinent's 1947 independence from Britain and subsequent partition.

Relations have improved dramatically since the the passage last year of a landmark US-Indian deal allowing New Delhi access to civilian US nuclear technology after all such ties were cut following India's first atomic test in 1974.

Ambassador Mulford, envoy to India for three years now, acknowledged that past memories may still rankle in some Indian memories.

"These are issues that go back in time," he said, addding Washington wants to prove itself to be a reliable military supplier for the country.

Now, India should "try us," he said, promising technology transfers and help in local production.

Ron Somers, president of the USINDIA Business Council, said he had recently read that an Indian official had estimated the country's defence procurements at 30 billion dollars in the next five years, which US companies want to grab a part of.

"But what is important is that India is being viewed by the US as a major link in the global supply chain, which will create thousands of jobs," Somers told AFP. "It is not just about the US selling equipment to India."

India expects to call a tender by mid-2007 for 126 combat planes for its air force, a defence ministry official said Tuesday.

The contract, coveted by the giants of military aerospace worldwide, may be worth as much as nine billion dollars.

Lining up to replace India's ageing fleet of Soviet era MiG-21s are the F-18 and F-16, Russia's MiG-29 and the Gripen, made by Sweden's Saab. The European defence and aircraft group EADS has also pitched its Eurofighter, and Dassault of France its fourth-generation Rafale.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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