A Tribune Exclusive
New Delhi, January 10
Despite the aggressive business-oriented visit of US President Barack Obama recently, two major competing American military aircraft makers, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have lost their pitch.
Growing Indo-US strategic relations have not helped the American diplomatic and arms lobbies to get either of the two planes touch the winning mark. India had shortlisted six aircraft: American Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN ‘Super Viper’, US Boeing’s ‘Super Hornet’ F/A-18IN, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company NV (EADS)’ Eurofighter Typhoon - EADS is a consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italy firms - French D'assault's Rafale, Swedish Saab’s Gripen, and Russian MiG-35. The MMRCAs induction is likely to start by 2015.
When the file related to the final evaluation of rival aircraft was shown to Defence Minister AK Antony, highly reliable sources told The Tribune that he said that if this was the case, let it be. The Prime Minister’s Office has been made aware about this. Now, a ‘political decision’ is awaited on this mega deal.
Interestingly, on the New Year eve, an important file relating to the deal was found on the roadside in the Khel Gaon area. The file was supposed to be in the custody of an IAS officer of the rank of director in the defence production wing of the Ministry of Defence. An inquiry has been ordered.
The IAF intends to purchase the MMRCA combat jets to replace its aging Russian-made MiG-21 fleet in phases and help in curbing the recent trend of the depleting squadron strength.
India had floated tenders for this deal in August 2007. The exhaustive technical evaluation of the six global manufacturers’ bids was completed last year. Starting from Bangalore, the trials took the competing fighters and their weapons to the hot desert region of Jaisalmer as well as high-altitude Leh.
Incidentally, the IAF ‘top guns’ - after trials at home and abroad - were said to be in favour of Swedish Saab’s Gripen fighters. Boeing’s ‘Super Hornet’ also reportedly gave a tough fight to be among the top four. The Eurofighter is said to be the costliest jet among the competitors.
Lockheed Martin’s F-16 lost mainly as the Air Force pilots’ community raised a critical question: why should India go for the same fighter aircraft that is with our main regional adversary - Pakistan?
The arrival of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter plane for trials had made many in the IAF apprehensive, and they feared that its ‘selection’ - because of over-pitched American lobbying - might become a ‘combat disadvantage’ for India. Pakistan has been operating F-16 aircraft since the mid-eighties and is currently flying the F-16 Block 50.
The Russian MiG-35 was ‘not touched’ by the evaluators as New Delhi and Moscow were busy signing a deal for a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).