Lockheed eyes new opportunities in India

New Delhi, November 13:

Armaments major Lockheed Martin, in the race to supply 126 combat jets to India, is eyeing several other opportunities to sell aircraft and hardware worth billions of dollars to the country’s armed forces.

The US firm will bid for an Indian Navy proposal to acquire some 30 submarine hunter helicopters, the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s plan to buy 80 medium-lift helicopters and an Indian Army programme to acquire tactical missiles. “I’m telling my colleagues in the US that there’s a new opportunity here almost every day,” Royce Caplinger, managing director of Lockheed Martin, said. Lockheed Martin is also pitching its C-130J Hercules, one of the most successful military transport aircraft, to the IAF and will be responsible for maintenance and product support if the Indian Navy goes ahead with a plan to acquire used P3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft from the US Navy.

The firm also makes the missiles used in the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defence system that the US has offered to India. The chief of the US defence security cooperation agency flew to India in September to make a classified presentation on the system to the country’s military top brass.

Caplinger, who heads Lockheed Martin’s new Indian office in New Delhi that will be formally inaugurated tomorrow, admitted the burgeoning defence ties between the US and India had opened up new doors for American armament firms.

Lockheed Martin is one of four military aviation majors short-listed for India’s programme to buy 126 frontline jets, and Caplinger believes the F-16 Fighting Falcon jets offered by his firm stand a good chance even though they are pitted against France’s Mirage 2000 and Russia’s MiG-29 — both already in service with the IAF.

The fourth jet in the race is Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen. The US government has also unilaterally offered the F-18 jet made by Boeing for the programme. “The Indian government’s request for proposals should be issued before the end of the year and we are anxious to get on and compete. We have a team standing by and the US government is preparing as well,” Caplinger said.

“The IAF has the Mirage and MiG-29 in its inventory and likes them but the F-16 represents the latest and greatest that the US has to offer. The platform may be old but the technology, weapon systems and cockpit are the latest. We have competed with the other fighters and we can win this bid.”

When it is concluded, the 126-jet purchase will be one of the largest defence buys by India, which has spent billions of dollars over the past few years to acquire a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, six French Scorpene submarines, six Il-78 midair refuellers from Uzbekistan and three Phalcon spy planes from Israel.

The US has been aggressively pitching the F-16 and F-18 to India, and the US Air Force has sent an F-16 squa-dron from Japan for the Cop-e India wargame currently. Noting that the F-16 was in service with 24 countries, Caplinger said Lockheed Martin would have ‘no problems’ with offering co-production of the jets in India.