//US aims for $6.5b deal, hard sells F-16, F/A-18

US aims for $6.5b deal, hard sells F-16, F/A-18

Rajat Pandit, 18 Nov, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK

NEW DELHI: With the defence ministry finally getting ready to jump-start the $6.5-billion deal to procure 126 multi-role combat aircraft, the Bush administration has put its full weight behind the American companies in the race to bag this "mother of all defence deals".

The US, in fact, used the Indo-US Defence Procurement and Production Group (DPPG) and Defence Policy Group (DPG) meetings here this week to hardsell the F/A-18 "Super Hornets" and F-16 "Falcons", manufactured by Boeing and Lockheed Martin respectively.

American officials told their Indian counterparts that the contract would be a major step towards boosting defence-industrial cooperation between the two countries. India could even become "an Asian hub" for production and maintenance of American-origin fighters being operated in the region.

The contract, after all, envisages off-the-shelf purchase of only around two dozen fighters out of the 126, with the rest being produced in India under transfer of technology.

But the F/A-18 and F-16 will have to contend with the Russian MiG-35, French Rafale, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon jets in the race. "The request for proposal for the 126 fighters is almost ready," said an Indian official.