by Nayanima Basu
The US is expected to once again urge India to buy F-16 fighter planes during the visit of the US Secretary of Defence James Mattis this month-end. During the visit, both sides are expected to boost defence ties, with India vowing to sign the remaining two foundational defence pacts.
Mattis’ visit to India, from September 25- 26, comes at a time when there is renewed pressure from the Trump administration to bolster defence trade under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) by procuring more weaponry from America.
“Pushing the F-16 deal is definitely on top of his (Mattis’) agenda. This is his first visit to India as Defence Secretary and he will make the most of it,” an official told BusinessLine.
Last October, India had issued a request for information (RFI) for a new single-engine fighter jet to the US, Sweden and Russia.
The Defence Ministry is expected to issue a new RFI soon, factoring in the introduction of the Strategic Partnership (SP) Policy. Ever since the US Air Force stopped buying the F-16 fighter planes in 1999, production of the fighter jets had been steadily declining.
However, the company has committed that it will offer the Indian Air Force (IAF) the most upgraded version of the warplanes – F-16 Block 70 – the production line of which will be established in India in collaboration with TATA Advanced Systems Ltd. while shutting down its assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.
With a depleting squadron, IAF is in dire need of fighters that have a proven track record.
Apart from F-16, the only other contender eyeing this multi-billion dollar deal is Sweden’s SAAB with its swanky new Gripen E, which had its maiden flight on June 15 this year.
However, many within the government, especially in the Defence Ministry, are of the opinion that India will become a clearance ground for the F-16 planes that have become obsolete. But F-16 comes with a proven track record compared with Gripen E.
Out of the three American defence foundational agreements, India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in August last year to enhance operational capacity of the Indian armed forces.
However, India has since then been shying away from signing the remaining two – Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement and a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation.
Once signed, these two foundational pacts are expected to grant India intelligence codes and scripts used by the American forces.