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US eyeing 'huge opportunities' in India's defence sector

Indira Kannan  |  New York 

The United States is not looking to re-enter the race for the multi-billion-dollar contract for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), but, instead, is eyeing other “huge opportunities” in the defence sector worth nearly $30 billion over the next few years.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake dismissed speculation on the MMRCA issue following media reports last month that American defence supplier Lockheed Martin may hope to rejoin the race by offering its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Indian Air Force had left Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN and Boeing’s F/A 18 Super Hornet out of its shortlist earlier this year, opting to choose between the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Answering a question from Business Standard during a media interaction, on whether the US believed there was still a window open for an American company to re-enter the MMRCA bid, Blake said, “No, we are not looking…not pressuring the Indian government to try and reopen the bid. We would welcome, and US companies would welcome the opportunity if they decide to reopen the bid for their own reasons.”

The Indian government has also said its selection process was irreversible. Blake said the US was looking past the MMRCA deal to “other huge opportunities” in defence sales to India, pointing to $30-billion worth of potential defence contracts, to be awarded by India over the next few years.

The US official was previewing the next round of the India-US Strategic Dialogue, to be led by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 18 in New Delhi.

On civilian nuclear cooperation, Blake said the Obama Administration remained fully committed to the bilateral agreement and “fully supports the so-called clean exception granted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to India”. He added that nothing in the latest NSG guidelines tightening export of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to countries that had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would affect the implementation of the India-US nuclear deal.

While the planned start of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan this month and the possible role of the Taliban in that country have raised concerns in India, Blake told Business Standard that the US had drawn “red lines” for any engagement with elements of the Taliban. This would be limited to those prepared to renounce violence, ties to Al Qaeda and a willingness to abide by the Afghan constitution, he said. Emphasising that the process was just beginning now and would be an “Afghan-led process”, Blake said Clinton would discuss the issue with Indian officials on the margins of the Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi.

The US also believes concerns about corruption and a lack of transparency have had an impact on investment into India. However, Blake said the US was confident the Indian government and Parliament were taking these challenges seriously and hoped for progress on this front.

According to Blake, the US expects this year’s Strategic Dialogue to take Indo-US relations to the “next level” by focusing on how the two countries can cooperate in Afghanistan and also expand their cooperation in Asia.

First Published: Sat, July 09 2011. 00:46 IST