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Trump regime supports sale of F-16 and F-18 to India

In this October 17, 2015 file photo, US Navy’s F-18 aircraft lands on aircraft-carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during the ‘Malabar’ exercise with the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force in the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai coast.

In this October 17, 2015 file photo, US Navy’s F-18 aircraft lands on aircraft-carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during the ‘Malabar’ exercise with the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force in the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai coast.

The Trump administration has told the U.S Congress that it “strongly supports” the sale of F-18 and F-16 fighter planes to India, built by American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin respectively. Both companies have offered to assemble these planes in India, should New Delhi decide to buy them. President Donald Trump is in principle against companies relocating facilities abroad and a written submission to a Congressional subcommittee by Alice Wells, acting Assistant Secretary of State for the South and Central Asian Affairs, clarifies the administration’s position on the issue.

U.S lawmakers and bureaucrats in general have been enthusiastic supporters of selling these fighters to India, and are now presenting them as deals that could reduce America’s trade deficit with India and create more jobs in America than they relocate — issues that are top on Mr. Trump’s agenda. Ms. Wells mentioned the strategic significance of defence cooperation with India — “defence cooperation with India is so vital to US interests because we need India to be a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific” — but also added that America needs to do more to reduce the deficit. She added US exports to India support more than 260,000 American jobs “across all 50 states.”

F-16 and Gripen, built by Swedish company Saab, are in competition for the proposed single-engine fighter acquisition for the Indian Air Force. French Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18 are competing for the contract for Indian Navy’s twin engine fleet for its aircraft carriers. Lockheed Martin and Tata have announced a joint venture to manufacture F-16, while Saab announced a JV with Adani last week for Gripen.

Best choices: Ashley Tellis

Strategic expert Ashley Tellis recently argued in a paper that F-16 and F-A/18 are the best choices for India in their respective categories. According to him, India will become the hub of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 manufacture for the entire world — there are more countries exploring purchase — and in supporting the 3,200 F-16s that continue to be in service in 25 countries.

The U.S military no longer buys F-16 but the 950-odd F-16s will remain in US Air Force (USAF) service for another two decades, Mr. Tellis said. For F-A/18 the argument has been based more on technological superiority, though Boeing also has offered manufacturing in India and transfer of technology.

Concerns for India

India has several concerns to be addressed before it moves ahead. “What is the depth of the technology transfer that these companies will offer to India? How will they help India’s aspirations for the domestic defence manufacturing capabilities? When they say they will make in India, what exactly will they make in India - as components are manufactured world over, and mostly in America,” a source familiar with the Indian position told The Hindu .

There are also questions about the ammunition supplies and American assurances in the event of a conflict with Pakistan. Pakistan also has a fleet of earlier generation F-16s supplied by America. India is also unclear about the future market for F-16s outside of India


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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 3:02:56 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/trump-regime-supports-sale-of-f-16-and-f-18/article61476005.ece