US arms industry eager to gain foothold in India

US defence contractors are clearly eager to "get in on the ground floor of the Indian defence market".

india Updated: May 10, 2006 11:04 IST

US companies are rushing to step up sales of fighter jets and other weapons to India even as the Bush administration struggles to convince Congress to back a landmark civilian nuclear energy deal with India.

"By any standards, this is an attractive market," said Rick Kirkland, a senior executive with No 1 US defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp, and a frequent visitor to India since 1993, citing the sheer size of the Indian armed forces.

US defence contractors are clearly eager to "get in on the ground floor of the Indian defence market," said Alan Tonelson at the US Business and Industry Council, adding that the nuclear deal had energized efforts that had been under way for some time.

But analysts and executives say the drive to expand arms sales to India remains complicated by concerns about proliferation; the impact on China; whether growing ties with India could alienate Pakistan, a key ally in the global war on terror; and cumbersome US export regulations.

"This is a very difficult balancing act," said Tonelson.

Indeed, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran on Saturday warned a decision by US lawmakers to block the nuclear deal could hurt warming US-India ties.

Defence analysts and industry executives said failure to approve the nuclear deal could dampen India's appetite for US weapons but was unlikely to throw US firms completely out of the running to supply new fighters or ships.

Kirkland said US companies saw promising opportunities in India, particularly given New Delhi's growing interest in using Western arms to replace some of the ships, fighter jets and other weapons that it has bought from Russia for decades.

This week, Lockheed executives will fly to New Delhi to deliver in person a bid to replace India's current fleet of Russian-made long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft with upgraded surplus US Navy P-3 aircraft, a deal that could be worth up to $700 million, Kirkland said.

First Published: May 10, 2006 04:19 IST