India taps Europeans for Jets

The United States, despite growing strategic ties with India, was eliminated from the jet-fighter competition. There are consolations.

Amiel Ungar, | updated: 23:13

Rafale Jets
Rafale Jets


India left both the United States and Russia disappointed when it informed the two that they had been eliminated from the competition for the mammoth fighter jet aircraft order. The two finalists were both European: France's Dassault Aviation and the European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Corporation, a four nation consortium.

This was the final recommendation from the Indian Defense Ministry and now it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet will okay the decision.

The United States, while accepting the worst,  is still hoping that the Indian government may yet reinstate the American companies in consideration for the US-Indian strategic partnership . The US declared itself "deeply disappointed" by being eliminated from the $10.4 billion prize, but pledged to retain US Indian strategic ties. It should be recalled that American president Barack Obama lobbied for the American companies during his visit to India.

The United States has good reason not to renounce these ties. First of all, it has already secured other lucrative contracts from the Indians, even though the United States has armed Pakistan and is a comparative Johnny-come-lately to the Indian arms market. There are many prizes still up for grabs, including helicopters and submarines.

The Indian Defense Ministry claims that the decision was reached on the basis of purely professional reasons and the expectation that the European options, either the Typhoon jets or the Rafale jets from French aircraft builder Dassault, offered a longer-range solution than the American F-16s and F-18s.

The United States may have expected that American concessions to India on the nuclear issue assured a quid pro quo on the aircraft deal. The United States has good reason, aside from future contracts, in maintaining strategic ties with India.

India bears comparison with the NATO countries. The NATO countries are in a process of military retrenchment that inhibits their ability to relieve the defense burden on the United States. The United States increasingly views an ascendant China as a military threat in the region and therefore the Indian arms buildup, even if the arms are not all made in America, performs a service to American strategic interests. China has to take Indian military power into consideration and this helps reinforce the US position in the Asian balance of power.