Defence Ministry Makes Wise Purchases

New Delhi’s recent announcement of a military contract to acquire a European fighter, sidelining US defence majors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has set the cat amidst the pigeons, thereby affecting Indo-US relations. Several US analysts and their Indian peers termed this as a “black day” and reprimanded New Delhi for ignoring the much-hyped bonhomie generated by the Indo US Nuclear Deal. These detractors, sadly, seemed to be measuring the engagement of the two of the world’s most vivacious democracies over a deal worth $10.4 billion, conveniently forgetting the several strong vectors that the two partners have shared over decades.

But first, the backdrop. India has shortlisted the Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS) which is backed by Germany, Spain, UK and Italy and the French Rafale (Dassault) for commercial negotiation for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract, slated to be inked sometime later this year. This left Washington highly disappointed. Timothy Roemer, the then US Ambassador in New Delhi, said “We are deeply disappointed by this news. We look forward to continuing to grow and develop our defence partnership with India.” 

In perhaps the most debated defence deal of late, New Delhi is slated to buy 18 jets off-the-shelf by 2014, while 108 another will be manufactured by the Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics after transfer of technology. Commercial parameters of the deal are likely to be based upon the “life cycle costs” of operating a fighter over a 40-year period along with 6,000 hours flying time. The two companies Dassault and EADS, were asked to extend the validity of their bids to 31 December. In what is being viewed as a close call, the Eurofighter and Rafale seem to have gunned for a photo finish in the 643 technical attributes laid down during the exhaustive field trials conducted by IAF test pilots, both at home and abroad under diverse weather conditions. The four other contenders, Swedish Gripen (Saab), American F-16 Super Viper ( Lockheed Martin) and F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing) and the Russian MiG-35 by United Aircraft Corporation, were handed out rejection letters. While the preference for the European was fairly known, it was expected that either the Russians or the Americans would crack it because of the huge political clout they wield. New Delhi, however, has sided with the IAF and took the latter’s opinion as the bone of contention.

The ministry of defence, expectedly, is receiving kudos as it has ensured that the best machine emerged the winner as regards MMCA even as Moscow and Washington, considered as political heavyweights, had to eat the humble pie. New Delhi, thus, will be having multiple choices of fighters with Russian Su 30 being aided by either the Rafale or the Eurofighter.

This is a moment of change as regards defence procurements by the ministry of defence which has sent clear signals that it won’t bow down to pressure. In fact, the transparency observed in the deal has sent the message to vendors that those fielding only top line equipment, would get a window. For the rest, regardless of their clout, it’s “sorry, thanks.”

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