Wednesday, January 19, 2011

US to lobby for $11-bn fighter aircraft deal

Ahead of Aero-India 2011 in Bangalore next month, a high-technology business development trade mission from the US, led by US commerce secretary Gary Locke, is expected to push for US fighter aircraft manufacturers for the $11-bn (medium multi-role combat aircraft) MMRCA deal.

Lockeed Martin, who would lead the trade mission to India from Feburary 6-11, said the US government views high-technology defence sales as a cornerstone of the US-India strategic partnership.

Six manufacturers, including Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60, Saab Gripen, and RSK MiG-35, are in race for the $11-billion deal for 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The process for the 126 MMRCA, initiated in August 2007, has entered its final phase after IAF carried out the flight and weapons evaluation of the six competing aircraft for what has been described as the ‘mother of all deals’.

According to sources in IAF, “Since the technical evaluations are down, the MoD is likely to down select the contenders after the air show, possibly by April. This would decide who goes in for contract negotiations. “

Another source, however, indicates that while there is no fixed number of aircraft for the shortlist, the Offsets liability have yet to be decided and that all six aircraft types could, in theory at least, advance to the contract stage.

It maybe recalled that earlier India was seeking offsets of 30% for defence programmes, but the requirement has been raised to 50% for the MMRCA with plans to create more jobs and transfer of technology.

Over 70 companies applied to participate in the US mission in order to promote US exports of high technology products and services in key economic sectors: civil-nuclear trade, defence and security, civil aviation, and information and communications technology.

Advanced technologies, including aerospace, specialised materials, information and communications technologies, electronics and flexible manufacturing systems, underpinned this growth, the department of commerce said.

Overall, US exports to India were $16.4 billion in 2009, making India the 17th largest export market. Exports to India through October 2010 reached approximately $16.1 billion.

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