of Lockheed Martin, which is developing the aircraft,
have indicated in the past that the aircraft could
be available to India if the Indian Air Force
(IAF) opted for the F-16 Super Viper in its quest
for some 200 Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCAs)
but recently, the company made a presentation
to the Indian Navy without this condition.
Lockheed Martins Vice President for Business
Development Orville Prins told India Strategic
that a presentation about the aircraft was made
to the Indian Navy recently after it expressed
interest in the newer generation of aircraft for
its future carrier-based aircraft requirements.
The Indian Navy is buying 45 Mig 29Ks for the
Gorshkov, or INS Vikramaditya, which it will get
from Russia in 2012 and its first indigenous aircraft
carrier. But for its second indigenous carrier,
and possibly more in the future, the Navy is looking
for a newer generation of aircraft as the carrier
itself is likely to be bigger.
Although the best of the weapon systems in the
US are developed by private companies, the funding
for their research and development is provided
by the Government which exercises full control
on the resultant products and their sale to any
foreign country. ToT is a serious issue and in
most cases, technology, particularly source codes,
is not shared even with Washingtons best
allies in the West or East.
Lockheed Martin apparently made the presentation
to India after authorization by the US Department
of Defense (DOD), but Prins pointed out that the
F 35 could be sold only after clearance from the
US State Department, for which bilateral negotiations
between New Delhi and Washington would need to
be held once India expressed interest.
The US is steadily emerging as a new supplier
of sophisticated arms to India, which urgently
needs to replace and augment its mostly outdated
Soviet-vintage systems with high technology weapons
of the 21st century.
Beginning 2002, when an agreement for the sale
of 12 Raytheons artillery and short-range
missile tracker system, the AN/TPQ 37 Weapon Locating
Radars (WLRs) was signed, the US has supplied
systems worth nearly US $ 4 billion.
Its not much compared to what India still
spends on defence trade with Russia but it is
a significant beginning.
Over the last few weeks, the Indian Ministry
of Defence has sent firm orders, or Letters of
Request (LoR) for 10 C 17 Globemaster III strategic
lift aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and
145 M 777 ultra light howitzers the Indian Army
badly needs for its mountain operations.
The competing gun from Singapore Technologies
Kinetics (STK) lost out as the company was mired
in allegations of corruption in an Indian Ordnance
Factory Board (OFB) scam. (STK is among the half
a dozen Indian and international companies with
whom business has been put on hold pending Central
Bureau of Investigation (CBI) clearance; they
are not blacklisted as some have reported).
BAE Systems, primarily a British firm with commercial
and manufacturing interests in the US and elsewhere,
had not taken part in the tender for ultra light
guns initially, although it wanted to enter the
race later. Its absence in the commercial competition
process helped it win the requirement.
Systems developed the titanium alloy M777 in Britain
but manufactures it in the US, from where it has
been supplied extensively in the tough Afghan
mountainous terrain against the Taliban terrorists.
It is easily ferried by Boeings Chinook
helicopters, which are also being considered for
acquisition by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
BAE Systems also owns the Swedish Bofors, which
has changed many hands since the 1980s. It was
acquired by the Swedish Government, then sold
to the United Defense of USA, and finally landed
in the BAE lap.
In fact, as the US Administration had imposed
restrictions on the sale of military equipment
to India after the 1998 nuclear tests, President
Bill Clinton went out of the way in 2000 to allow
United Defense-Bofors an exception to sell its
guns to India if the Indian Army opted for them.
BAE is now in the race to sell upgraded versions
of Bofors as well as to modernize the 410 units
that the Indian Army had bought.
Allegations of corruption in the acquisition
of 15mm FH 77B guns (howitzers) notwithstanding,
the Bofors guns proved their worth in the 1999
Kargil War to evict the intruding Pakistani Army
from the heights it had infiltrated into and occupied.
India has also deployed this gun at the highest
battlefield in the world at Siachin. Ferrying
them to those daunting heights in parts and then
assembling them has been a tremendous job by itself
for the Army.
LORs for both the C 17 and M 777 have been issued
only in January 2010.
India has less than 20 IL 76 Soviet-supplied
Il-76 heavy lift or strategic lift aircraft, which
will mark 25 years of their induction in April
Although a fuel-guzzler, the IL 76 has served
the IAF well and still has a residual life of
10 to 15 years with some periodic modifications
as the IAF has utilized it carefully. Manufactured
in Uzbekistan, which was a part of the Soviet
Union, the IL 76 is now out of production and
most of its existing serviceable units have been
acquired by China.
There is no matching aircraft to replace the
IL 76, the closest being the C 17, although bigger
aircraft are available from both the US and Russia.
The C 17 has nearly double the capacity of an
IL 76, but according to Air Marshal Ashok Goel,
a veteran of IAFs transport fleet, full
load on an aircraft is never really carried as
it hinders its range and fuel capacity.
Unlike the IL 76 though, the C 17 can be refueled
midair for much longer flights, and needs only
two pilots and one loadmaster for operations,
that is half the crew of what the IL 76 requires
Despite its massive size, the C 17 can take off
and land on unpaved grassy fields like a football
ground at very steep angles, an important capability
in battle conditions. India Strategics
News Editor Nitin Luthra, who had the opportunity
to fly in the C 17 at the Paris Air Show, had
described its short takeoff capability as simply
Although India has placed a firm order for only
10 C 17s, with no options for now, Chief of Air
Staff Air Chief Marshal P V Naik had told India
Strategic that IAF was looking at 20 aircraft.
IAF had also placed an order for six C 130J Special
Operations aircraft with an option for six more
in 2008 with the US Lockheed Martin. A smaller
aircraft than the C 17, it is also highly capable
and can operate from small grassy fields to quickly
get away after loading or unloading. Lockheed
Martin has offered to transfer the manufacturing
facility to India if 40 or 50 aircraft are ordered
for military and civil use, particularly in the
mountainous north-east regions.
The Border Security Force (BSF) is also considering
to buy one or two C 130Js, albeit without some
specialized systems that the IAF needs.
The F 35 JSF is a Fifth Generation aircraft,
to be used by the US Air Force, Navy and Marines.
It will perhaps be the last manned aircraft by
that country before unmanned, high-powered long-range
drones and helicopters fully take over the skies
by the middle of this century.
The USAF is already conducting joint manned and
unmanned combat operations in Afghanistan with
Global Hawk and Reaper drones, clearly indicating
the gradual transition underway, and refining
the technology from actual, real-time warfare
The unmanned systems, controlled from airbases
in the US itself on the other side of the globe,
are both reconnaissance and armed, and their use
has increased in the recent years to neutralize
terrorists in the troubled mountainous region
on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
India has opted to buy drones from Israel, and
there is also effort underway to develop an indigenous
armed version, given the interest by IAF in this
regard. It will be interesting to see if the US,
which is the only country using drones in day
to day war, will share some technology with India.
The F 35 is a single-engine, single-seat stealth
aircraft, being developed with several foreign
partners to help reduce development and production
costs, and is still being tested for its varied
capabilities. It will be available in conventional
takeoff and landing mode as well as in short-take-off-and-vertical-landing
(STOVL) for carrier landings.
Thanks to the numbers, it could cost as low as
$ 50 million only per unit, or the price of a
modern Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA)
despite its highly advanced features.
The JSF 35B conducted its first STOVL propulsion
test in flight for the first time on Jan 7 at
the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, and
it will be some time before it goes into production.
Its programme partner countries include Britain,
Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia,
Norway, Denmark , Singapore and Israel, all of
whom would possibly supply some components, and
Whether India joins the production programme
or not is an open question, depending upon the
numbers required. The Indian Navy cannot have
a large requirement and the Indian Air Force is
already committed to buying the similar but perhaps
more expensive Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft
(FGFA) to be jointly produced by Russias
Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association
(KNAPPO) which produces SU 30 jets
and Indias HAL.
The Russians have done substantial work in this
regard, and hope to fly its single seat version
by 2015-16 while the IAF hopes to induct its two-seat
version by 2017. IAF wants the second seat missionised
for weapon operations for the co-pilot, a practice
that the Israelis have also opted for in their
China, which has been accused of stealing technology
by Russia, is also trying to develop a 5th generation
In any case, its a question of time when
the environment in the strategic Indian Ocean
region, and around India, is filled by the likes
of stealth and futuristic aircraft. Lockheed Martin
hopes to be around for that time, and, says Orville
Prins, we are making the offer well ahead
in that perspective.
However, the Americans had proved to be unreliable
in the 1960s when they made several promises for
equipment after the 1962 Chinese aggression on
India and did not fulfill them. Driven by its
Cold War strategies and regional military alliances
like SEATO and CENTO, the US always supplied the
best of its weapons to Pakistan, forcing India
to follow. For instance, Pakistan was the first
country in South Asia to get hi-tech weapons in
the 1980s when the US gave it F 16 warjets, Harpoon
anti-shipping missiles, P-3C Orion Maritime Surveillance
and Attack aircraft as well as Command, Control
and Communications and Intelligence (C3I) computers.
India had to follow with Mirage 2000 aircraft
from France and Mig 29s from the Soviet Union.
The geopolitical realities have perhaps changed
and the US is willing to offer some of its best
Indeed, the US has been steadily opening its
stable of sophisticated weapons to India. After
the sale of Raytheons WLRs, which was actually
the first combat system under the Foreign Military
Sales (FMS) received from the US after Indias
nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, the US has also
sold eight highly advanced Boeing P8-I Multi-mission
Maritime Aircraft (MMA) to the Indian Navy to
patrol the Indian Ocean. The aircraft is still
under development, and significantly, will be
available to the Indian Navy nearly at the same
time as to the US Navy, which has paid for its
This was preceded by the transfer of an old amphibious
ship, USS Trenton, renamed INS Jalashwa, and its
six onboard Sikorsky utility helicopters at nominal
costs for the Indian Navy.
The P8-I is the most hi-tech system yet to be
acquired by India, and according to Boeings
Integrated Defense Systems India Head, Dr Vivek
Lall, its sale is unprecedented in
terms of US transfer of technology.
In August last year, another US arms major, Northrop
Grumman, also offered its futuristic Hawkeye 2-D
combat management aircraft to the Indian Navy.
This aircraft is also under development and it
India opts to buy it, then this system will also
be available to the Indian Navy nearly at the
same time as the US Navy.
P8-I deal is the biggest yet at $ 2.1 billion,
while the other major deal for C 130Js has been
placed at nearly $ one billion. The 145 M777 guns
are around S 650 million while the 10 C 17s could
be between $ 2.5 to 3 billion. IAF has also bought
three Boeing Business Jets for VIP travel worth
around $ 220 million.
The deal for the 10 C 17s, which was formally
announced by Boeing from Long Beach. California
on Jan 8, would be bigger than that of the P8-Is,
depending upon the configuration and requirements
of the Indian Air Force. No details are available.
Notably, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have also
fielded their respective F/A-18 Super Hornet and
F-16 Super Viper combat jets to India in the six-cornered
MRCA competition, but the US has also added other
sophisticated systems like the Lockheed Martins
Aegis shipboard anti-missile system, which had
been used two years ago to shoot down a satellite
in space with precision as part of an apparent
Orville Prins said that presentation on the Aegis
system had also been made to the Indian Navy and
the Ministry of Defence.
On offer are also some of the best precision
missiles and engagement systems from Raytheon,
which does not make any platforms but builds onboard
Sources say that it is also offering its latest
Airborne Standoff Radar (ASTOR), which is perhaps
the latest in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology,
to India. The system has been fielded in Afghanistan
by the British forces only last year.
Raytheon has been mentioning its Patriot anti-missile
system but as yet, it has no formal clearance
from the US government to offer it to India. Informal
presentations have been made though.
Notably, most of the combat systems with the
Indian Armed Forces are either old or outdated.
For instance, except for the Su 30MKI combat aircraft,
all the fighter and transport aircraft with the
Indian Air Force are at least 20 years old.
The emphasis now is more on onboard precision
engagement technology as the key to modern warfare
The US has that.
But how far India goes in buying the US systems
will largely depend not only on the technology
and price offered, but also on the Transfer of
Technology (ToT) that most major deals now warrant
as a policy.