Foreign and Defense Policy

No Joy for U.S. in Indian Fighter-Jet Deal

Ending months of anticipation, India has announced two finalists in one of the world’s single largest military contracts: the Indian Air Force’s $10 billion acquisition of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. They are the Rafale made by France’s Dassault and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a British, Italian, German, and Spanish consortium. The losers: Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, and competitors from Russia and Sweden.

While not entirely unanticipated—the French and European fighters reportedly bested their rivals in technical trials—the announcement nonetheless comes as a jolt for those who expected at least one U.S. plane to make the shortlist. Unlike their European rivals, the U.S. planes have been extensively battle-tested. In addition, the 2008 U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, in which Washington carved out an India-sized exception in the global non-proliferation regime, and President Obama’s successful visit to India in November, were expected to pave the way for the purchase.

While India may couch its decision in purely technical terms, or point to more generous technology sharing and end-use terms offered by the French and the Europeans, the political subtext of the decision is impossible to escape. Simply put, India has rebuffed the U.S. offer of a closer strategic partnership. Or, as Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment put it, India “settled for a plane, not a relationship.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that many Indians are questioning the government’s decision. Nitin Pai, a prominent international relations expert who blogs under the name Acorn, says the decision “demonstrates either a poor appreciation of the geostrategic aspect or worse, indicative of a lingering anti-American mindset.” The newspaper Mint calls it an example of “technique without strategy.” For Boeing and Lockheed, however, these and other voices of support are hardly consolation for losing a contract that would have boosted the bottom line, created thousands of jobs, and added more military heft to the U.S.-India relationship.

11 thoughts on “No Joy for U.S. in Indian Fighter-Jet Deal

  1. If there’s a silver lining to this, it is that folks in India realise that a few billion USD worth of defense deals will not win you influence aka curry favour with the folks in Capitol Hill. Many forget that US companies have won more defense contracts in India in the past five years than any one else.

    The “buying a plane, not a relationship” is a tired line which seems to be lifted from the textbook of an overrated business school. The UK and Australia are both far closer to the US in terms of strategic ties than India can be, even if it brought 200 jets; have those two nations been granted rights to source codes and full stealth capability in the JSF programme? Saudi Arabia cannot twist opinion on the Capitol despite being the biggest spender on these systems. The US and India will continue to pursue a strategic partnership for many reasons, foremost being necessity.

    I can’t seem to figure out what Ashley Tellis is trying to convince. While he is well within his right to cheer for the American offerings, may be she should look at the last paragraph of his seminal, albeit biased monograph-’Dogfight’. Here I quote verbatim

    “No matter which way India leans in the MMRCA contest, keeping the
    IAF’s interests consistently front and center will ensure that its ultimate choice
    will be the right one. A selection process that is transparent, speedy, and focused
    on the right metrics will not only strengthen the IAF’s combat capabilities, but
    it will also earn the respect of all the competing vendors and their national
    patrons. Some of them will be disappointed by India’s fi nal choice, but those,
    alas, are the rules of the game.”>

    It was the IAF’s choice. Period.

  2. F-16 is outdated. Even the US air force does not use it anymore. The US did not offer their latest and greatest model. Other countries offered better equipment.

  3. Pingback: Fighter Jet Deal Stunts U.S.-India Partnership « The Enterprise Blog

  4. If US wants to pour billions of dollars into pakistan then they better not be hard-earned Indian dollars! Good job IAF despite tremendous pressure from the so called “pro-India strategist” such as Ashley Tellis and the author. Atleast the IAF has the spine to stand up for its interests. Sadly strategists such as the author place more importance in shallow dual faced American friendship than in National Security. Guess that what happens when you spend too much time in Yankee Country!!

  5. Btw, US has done India no favor with the Indo-US Nuclear deal. It was a deal, like any other, in which both sides saw tremendous economic and political gains. When I go buy a house, the seller is doing me no favor – likewise US’ decision to grant India an exception.

  6. I quote from Bloomberg “Lockheed, based in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, has offered its F-16 fighter, while Chicago-based Boeing aims to sell the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Those planes were first designed in the 1970s and Lockheed’s F-22, the most advanced and expensive fighter in the U.S. arsenal, was not offered for the sale. ”

    If the US was ready to sell advanced jets, it would have won the contract. Expecting to win a $11 billion contract which will create 30,000 jobs while selling 40 year old jets is delusional.

  7. Pingback: Building the Indo-U.S. Strategic Relationship « The Enterprise Blog

  8. Perhaps Mr Dhume you should have mentioned that this wasn’t exactly a “close finish”. The American offer was basically “Hey buy our planes, we are America!”. Even a cursory observation will reveal the following:

    - American planes in this offer suck. “Battle testedness” again Iraqi or Libyan or Yugoslavian air force can hardly be called that. Like Bruce Lee said, “boards don’t hit back”.
    - America supplies the criminal enemy of India with freebies. That’s like India subsidizing the war machine of it’s No. 1 enemy.
    - US slapped santions on India after the Nuclear tests in ’98. France did NOT. Who do you think is the “strategic partner” of India? Last I heard, “a friend in need, is a friend indeed”. Two but strategy analysts who say otherwise should be fired.
    - America sells equipment with strings attached including end use policies and threat assessments that suit the US not India. Who is to say that America wont stop spare supplies in the event of a quite likely punishing strike on Pakistan by IndianAF?

    This is what the US should have done to make the sale instead of browbeating India:
    - Offer F35s with liberal tech sharing with NO STRINGs ATTACHED on end use.
    - Declare Pakistan a terrorist state, STOP ALL AID including spare supplies to existing F16s and try to pry away the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world from the one country most likely to nuke India and US (make no mistake).

  9. Pingback: International Repercussions of Foiled Fighter Jet Deal « The Enterprise Blog

  10. Clearly Sadanand Dhume does not understand that a 40 year old is no bargain for India. The US contibues to pour money into Pakistan, despite Pakistan openly supporting and instigating terrorism.

    India would be foolish to support Pakistan (even though the Indian government is spineless and would sell out to Italy in a minute as demonstrated by the stupid response to the Mumbai attacks by Pakistan’s ISI).

    If the US wants to TRULY get RID of terrorism then they should stop ALL aid to Pakistan, put in place a complete and total embargo against Pakistan and start supporting India without strings.

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