Friday, November 4, 2011

Pentagon Awaits India’s Interest in Lockheed Martin F-35 Fighter

The U.S. Defense Department offered India technology sharing and talks on its top weapons program, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, to gain more security cooperation in the face of regional competition from China.

“Should India indicate interest in the JSF, the United States would be prepared to provide information on the JSF and its requirements,” including on security and infrastructure, the Defense Department said yesterday in a congressionally mandated report on U.S.-India security cooperation.

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

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 yesterday in an e-mail, citing cybersecurity and counterterrorism.

Nuclear Technology

The report reflects the desire by successive U.S. administrations to convince India to increase security cooperation and buy American equipment as it expands and modernizes its military. The push included a years-long fight for congressional approval in 2008 of an agreement intended to clear the way for U.S. manufacturers such as General Electric Co. to sell India nuclear-energy technology.

The U.S. expected the nuclear-energy agreement to help increase a range of technology sales to India, especially in the defense sector.

The Pentagon report alludes to disappointing results. It cites the “setback” in April, when Lockheed’s F-16 jet fighter and Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet were eliminated from the $11 billion Indian competition to replace the subcontinent’s aging fleet of 1970s-era MiG-21s.

Aircraft on the shortlist were Dassault Aviation SA’s Rafale and the Eurofighter made by BAE Systems Plc, Finmeccanica SpA and European Aeronautic, Defense & Space Co.

Weapons Cooperation

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.

Laurie Quincy, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, declined to comment on yesterday’s report.

India has urged the U.S. 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 United States wants to develop deeper defense industrial cooperation with India, including a range of cooperative research and development,” they wrote in the assessment. “The United States is committed to providing India with top-of-the-line technology.”

The Cornyn-Lieberman provision had called for the Pentagon to assess the potential for jointly developing equipment such as a replacement for the U.S. Air Force T-38 trainer jet. Yesterday’s report didn’t specifically address that system.

Efforts for the next five years will place “particular emphasis on maritime security and counterterrorism activities and expanding defense trade and armaments cooperation,” the Pentagon reported.

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