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. US Offers India Advanced Fighter Aircraft

File photo of an F-18.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (AFP) Mar 02, 2006
The United States Thursday offered to sell India advanced fighter aircraft as the next step in a rapidly expanding military relationship between the two countries.

The announcement by the Pentagon came during a visit to New Delhi by President George W. Bush, who cemented a new strategic partnership with India earlier Thursday with a landmark agreement on civilian nuclear technology.

"The United States is committed to providing state-of-the-art fighter aircraft in response to India's requirements for a multi-role combat aircraft," the Pentagon said.

"We have indicated our intention to offer both the F-16 and the F-18, both combat proven aircraft," it said.

The Pentagon also pledged to work to make additional capabilities available to India as they enter the US force, and said its proposal also addresses India's interest in technology transfers and indigenous co-production.

The statement portrayed the offer as the next step in taking the burgeoning US military relationship with India to a new level.

"It is our goal to help meet India's needs in the defense realm, and to provide important capabilities and technologies that India seeks. We are on a path to accomplish this," the Pentagon said.

"Where only a few years ago, no one would have talked about the prospects for a major US-India defense deal, today the prospects are promising, whether in the realm of combat aircraft, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, or naval vessels."

India has said it wants to buy 126 multi-role fighter aircraft over the next 15 years to upgrade its forces.

Russia and France have been India's traditional suppliers of aircraft, but New Delhi is considering a range of fighter aircraft, including the US-built F-16 and F-18.

The Pentagon statement said it was aware that the Indians are concerned about the reliability of the United States as a supplier.

"We are committed to addressing this priority of India. The United States intends to be a reliable partner. It is in the US interest to do so," it said.

The US Congress halted the delivery of F-16s to Pakistan in 1990 after concluding that it was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Further sanctions were imposed on India and Pakistan after they conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.

But the sanctions were lifted under the Bush administration, and Thursday's nuclear agreement lifted restrictions on sharing civilian nuclear technology that have been in place since India first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.

The push for closer US military ties with India comes amid US concerns about China's growing military might.

A Pentagon strategy review released last month singled out China as the country most likely to challenge the United States militarily in the years ahead.

A US-Indian military cooperation agreement signed last year in Washington laid the foundation for stepped-up arms sales, joint weapons production and cooperation on missile defense.

The two countries also have conducted joint naval, air and army exercises.

"We see the multi-role combat aircraft competition as a prime opportunity to demonstrate the advances and transformation of the US-India relationship in the area of defense trade in general and reliability, in particular," the Pentagon said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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