Following the ejection of the United States from the race to secure a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft order from the Indian Air Force, a top India analyst here said that there were many in the United States who would describe the Indian government’s decision as having “settled for a plane, not a relationship.”
Commenting on the shortlist announced by the Government of India on Thursday, which included the European Eurofighter and French Rafale aircraft but not the U.S.-built F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing and the F16IN Super Viper by Lockheed Martin, Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said, “The downselect decision clearly represents the IAF’s choice, which the MOD [Ministry of Defence] ] has obviously gone along with as expected.”
Mr. Tellis added that while both the fighters down-selected were “extremely agile platforms”, and excelled in “maneuverability, acceleration, and flight envelopes”, their “big weakness” was their primary sensor.
Arguing that neither the Eurofighter nor the Rafale had an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar – handy for stealth operations across a wider range of signal frequencies – yet, the bigger questions were “not technical, but strategic”.
Questioning whether these aircraft represented the best value for the IAF and the best investments for India overall, Mr. Tellis said to The Hindu that those in the U.S. who felt that India had settled for an aircraft over a strategic relationship would also conclude that “there is no reason why the administration should bend backwards to accommodate India.”
Mr. Tellis, formerly a senior advisor to the Ambassador at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, a staff member of the National Security Council and Special Assistant to the President, also had critical words for the manner in which the decision was made and announced.
He said that it only made things worse given that “the GOI knew full well the importance the administration attached to this sale... [and] a quiet intimation of the coming decision would have helped.”