Friday, November 4, 2011

Interested in joint strike fighters, US asks India

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: The US, which lost a bid for a $11 billion contract for 126 war planes, has now offered New Delhi partnership in the development of the world's most advanced flying machine, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Pentagon, which acknowledged that India's recent decision not to opt for America's F-16 and F-18 fighters was a setback, said it was still interested in selling its topnotch fighters to India. "Despite this setback, we believe US aircraft, such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), to be the best in the world," the Pentagon said in a nine-page report to US Congress. "Should India indicate interest in the JSF, the US would be prepared to provide information on the JSF and its requirements (infrastructure, security, etc) to support India's planning," the Pentagon said in a one-of-its kind report on India submitted to the US Congress.

The F-35 is a fifth generation all-stealth fighter being developed by US armament giant Lockheed Martin in a joint consortium with eight other countries - the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. The F-35 Lightning II boasts advanced airframe, autonomic logistics avionics, propulsion systems, stealth and firepower at the most affordable cost.

The US has already undertaken some test flight of the fighter. F-35 is the only other 5th generation aircraft to fly in the world besides the F-22 Raptors. Washington refuses to share the Raptor technology with any other nation, even closest allies UK and Israel.

More joint work on science and technology "may lead to co- development opportunities with India as a partner," the Defense Department report said.

The nine-page review of defense ties with India was prepared in response to a legislative provision sponsored earlier this year by Senate Armed Services Committee members Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin builds the F-35 in Texas.

United Technologies Corp. makes the plane's engines in Connecticut. "Our two governments must be proactive in finding new ways to take on emerging security challenges together," Lieberman said in an e-mail, citing cybersecurity and counterterrorism. The report reflects the desire by successive US administrations to convince India to increase security cooperation and buy American equipment as it expands and modernises its military. The push included a years-long fight for congressional approval in 2008 of an agreement intended to clear the way for US manufacturers such as General Electric to sell India nuclear-energy technology. The US expected the nuclear-energy agreement to help increase a range of technology sales to India, especially in the defense sector.

Lockheed's F-16 jet fighter and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet were eliminated from the $11 billion bid to replace India's aging MiG-21s. Aircraft on the shortlist were Dassault Aviation SA's Rafale and the Eurofighter made by BAE Systems, Finmeccanica and European Aeronautic, Defense & Space Co. Lockheed Martin said in June it may offer the F-35 stealth fighter to India. The Cornyn-Lieberman requirement for the security cooperation report helped open an avenue to do that, Lockheed senior vice-president Patrick Dewar said in a June interview at the Paris Air Show. India has urged the US to give it more access to technology so that the two countries can develop weapons together.

The Pentagon acknowledged that goal in the report. "The US wants to develop deeper defense industrial cooperation with India, including a range of cooperative research and development," they wrote in the assessment.

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