India has told the United States that it will not be buying American for its $10-billion fighter aircraft deal. This more or less leaves the Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Rafale as the only remaining contenders for the deal.
The two US contenders, Boeing and Lockheed, received formal letters from the Indian Ministry of Defence as to why their respective aircraft, the F/A-18 Superhornet and the F-16 Superviper, did not fulfil the technical requirements of Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft contract, said US and Indian sources.
Defence Minister AK Antony has been signaling privately for weeks that the Indian Air Force and his ministry would go for one of the European fighters.
The Russian contender, the MiG 30, along with the Swedish Gripen received similar notes as the US firms.
The Indian notification will come as a major shock to bilateral relations. Washington had seen such a purchase, the first time India would be buying a US warplane, as a sign of India's interest in upgrading strategic relations.
Indian officials were quick to say that Indo-US relations were greater than a single arms purchase. But given that it follows on US nuclear reactor purchases being bogged down in liability issues, the decision will strengthen Indo-skeptics in Washington.
New Delhi will hide behind technical reasons, the two European fighters are generally seen as aerodynamically superior if not necessarily better fighting platforms.