The announcement by New Delhi the other day that both U.S. contenders for the Indian Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) program, Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin’s F-16, had been eliminated is a major disappointment not only for those companies but for the U.S. government. The Obama Administration had hoped that winning the MRCA competition would mark a major step function improvement in the Indian-U.S. security relationship. Also losing in the first round of the competition were contenders from Russia and Sweden. Left to battle it out in the estimated $10 billion deal were Dassault’s Rafale and the EADS Typhoon.
In recent years, U.S. defense trade with India has expanded — particularly in aerospace. The Indian Air Force is currently taking delivery of both C-130J and C-17 transports. The Indian Navy is in the process of acquiring advanced P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.
During the Cold War, India was largely a purchaser of Soviet defense goods, notably aircraft, armor and naval vessels. Even today, India and Russia have close defense trade relations. India is a major financial supporter and eventual acquirer of the Russian “stealth fighter.” The Indian decision on the MRCA suggests that New Delhi’s strategy is to ensure diversification in its sources of supply for major weapons systems. The future Indian air fleets will be equipped with a mixture of Russian, European and American platforms. This is not the optimum solution from a training and sustainment perspective but makes some sense politically.
If India wants to diversify its military supplier base further then there are a lot of opportunities for U.S. defense companies. Other possible sales include unmanned aerial systems, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Stryker armored vehicle. The U.S. has also done some very innovative things in the area of soldier clothing and individual equipment, particularly for cold weather and high altitude operations. The U.S. Army has developed a wide range of products for counter-insurgency operations including man-portable robots, improved night vision goggles, laser designators, ruggedized radios and lightweight weapons. These might find a ready market with an Indian Army that faces the challenges of operating against insurgents in the Hindu Kush.
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