'Jet power, not politics, should determine deal '
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'Jet power, not politics, should determine deal '

Lockheed is downplaying the potential effect of US political influence on India's planned purchase of 126 fighter jets.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 16:11 IST

Lockheed Martin Corp, the biggest US defence contractor, on Tuesday downplayed the potential effect of Washington's political influence on India's planned purchase of 126 new fighter jets.

Lockheed is competing with an array of airplane makers, including US rival Boeing Co, Dassault Aviation of France, Sweden's Gripen-SAAB and Russia's Sukhoi, to sell jets to India in a deal worth at least $8 billion ($6.7 billion).

India currently has no American-made fighter aircraft, but its relationship with Washington -- which was tense during the Cold War --is now rapidly warming.

Both governments are working on a civilian nuclear deal, and US President George W Bush plans to visit India next month. Lockheed believes its multi-role F-16 Fighting Falcon would "offer a tremendous capability to the Indian Air Force," as it could be tailored to meet different requirements and was relatively affordable, said June Shrewsbury, Lockheed's general manager for F-16 programs.

Asked whether improving ties between Washington and New Delhi might benefit Lockheed, Shrewsbury said the company believes it deserves to win the order on merit.

"We hope that the competition is based on the capabilities, the affordability, the industrial cooperation program that each contractor offers," she told reporters on the sidelines of the Asian Aerospace exhibition in Singapore. "We think that in that kind of competition, the F-16 would win hands down." India is expected to seek formal proposals soon from aircraft manufacturers for the purchase, and the bidding process could take several years.

A key factor for India in choosing new planes is the supplier's commitment to share technologies to make spare parts, and to develop and produce aircraft in India.

Lockheed, which is based in Bethesda, Maryland, has previously said it hopes to collaborate with India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. on the development and co-production of fighter jets.

However, some analysts believe India is likely to be wary of the United States as a sole supplier, since Washington imposed sanctions on India in 1998 after it conducted nuclear tests. The restrictions were later lifted.

India's Air Force currently flies Russian-made MiG fighters, British Jaguars and French Mirage aircraft.

India's defense spending has steadily risen in recent years as the country tries to modernize its outdated hardware.

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 15:38 IST