India Goes Shopping -- for Weapons

In a time of shifting global alliances, few countries feel completely secure from their neighbors, especially in Asia where ancient feuds still provoke hostile attitudes. So it should come as no surprise that a nation as suddenly capital rich as India is plunging headlong into upgrading its military arsenal. In this month's issue, contributor Seema Singh looks at the new relationship between the world's second largest nation and arms makers in America who are looking to profit from its needs in "Delhi's Defense Spending Spree".

With a five-year defense modernization budget in excess of US $30 billion, arms exporters are courting India like never before, Singh explains. This is particularly true of U.S. contractors, who have only recently gained a foothold in the corridors of India's capital. These days, American defense firms are working closely with the Pentagon and the U.S.-India Business Council, in Washington, D.C., to ensure that they have a fighting chance at snaring a good sized portion of Delhi's new war chest.

"After the enormous growth [of the] U.S.-India strategic and defense relationship over the last three to four years, we want to make a breakthrough in defense sales," the U.S. ambassador to India, David Mulford, said at the international Aero India 2007 air show, held in Bangalore in February.

And the prospects for U.S. manufacturers look good. India's shopping list is substantial: 126 multi-role combat aircraft (about $7.5 billion), eight long-range maritime patrol aircraft (at least $1 billion), 197 light utility helicopters (some $600 million), and a number of tactical transport aircraft (perhaps a hundred million). The big prize is the combat fighter/interceptors. India is accepting bids from Boeing and Lockheed from the U.S., as well as Dassault of France, MiG of Russia, Saab of Sweden, and Eurofighter, a consortium of European manufacturers.

Boeing has even offered the unprecedented measure of building its F/A-18 Super Hornets in India. "India is the largest fighter deal since the beginning of the 1990s. It represents one of Boeing's largest potential growth markets for defense products in Asia," says Mark Kronenberg, Boeing vice president of integrated defense systems for Asia-Pacific.

"Today, nobody buys [defense equipment] like India buys. And it will continue to be one of the world's principal weapon buyers," Rahul Bedi, an analyst at Jane's Defence Weekly in New Delhi told Singh.

It's a cold, hard world out there. India isn't doing anything different than other world powers are doing.

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