Arms companies raise the pitch for $12bn order
Lobbying intensifies ahead of Obama visit
BY Iftikhar Gilani
Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s November 6-8 visit, representatives of various global arms companies are engaged in intensive lobbying to bag the biggest ever military contract worth $12 billion for 126 multi-role fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corporation arranged a press briefing here to hardsell its F-17 Super Viper single-engine fighter. Meanwhile, the entire board of its competitor, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company NV (EADS), manufacturers of the Eurofighter, is in India to stem any chances of American companies that they feel may have a political edge on the eve of their president’s visit.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet from the military arm of Boeing Company is also in the race and it too is leaving no stone unturned to procure the contract.
Analysts in the capital agree that the deal has now attained political overtones and predict it may go the US way if Obama announces, or indicates, some major concessions to India, say, by offering support to India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and removing some snags in the India-US defence purchases deal.
Batting for US arm companies recently, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake estimated that 27,000 jobs would be created in the US if they clinch this deal.
Addressing India’s concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan, Lockheed Martin Director Michael R Griswold said his company would provide more advanced F-16IN Super Viper fighters to India. “It is a unique fourth-generation fighter and is ready for integration into India’s military force,” he said.
Referring to the plane’s radar system, his associates claimed that it can detect a plane even as it takes off from a Pakistani airbase. Pushing their case further, they said the single engine that generates 32,000 pounds of thrust also gives greater manoeuvrability during dog fights, unlike the twin-engine aircraft.
As a deal sweetener, EADS on its part has offered to shift the manufacture of some of its components to India, which is estimated to generate 20,000 jobs.
“We will transfer some of our development projects, which are now based in Europe for Eurofighter or other military aircraft, to India. We have already set up a military research and development (R&D) centre in Bangalore,” EADS Chief Executive (Defence & Security) Stefan Zoller had recently told Indian journalists in Bonn.
The European defence giant, however, has been quick to deny that its plan to shift operations to India was in any way linked to its bid for the multi-billion contract, saying it was only interested in procuring cheap manpower. But analysts say the move was aimed at putting indirect pressure on the government to award this contract and others in the future.
The race to win the massive contract had several other contenders, including the MiG-35 from Russia, the Rafale from Dassault Aviation of France, and the JAS 39 Gripen from Sweden. But it is now a toss-up between the American and EADS, with most of the other contenders having more or less lost hope of bagging the contract either due to snags during the technical evaluation stage or due to the absence of political clout.