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How a dogfight drove home the allure of India's arms market

Defence manufacturers big and small suddenly have a clear hint of what a lucrative market India could be.

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Last Updated: Apr 02, 2019, 07.22 PM IST
The dogfight that opened up a billion-dollar market in India
All major defence manufactuers are currently making a beeline to India.
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The dogfight over Kashmir that almost sent two nuclear-armed nations to war had a ramification beyond the obvious — it suddenly brought home what a lucrative market India was for defence manufacturers big and small.

American defence giant Boeing has just offered to bring its 21st-century aerospace ecosystem to India for co-developing F/A-18 Super Hornet upgrades, a PTI story has revealed.

Boeing — who has long been eyeing India's multi-billion dollar fighter jet pie — said it intended its cutting-edge ecosystem to be part of the country's advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) programme.

"What we're talking about is a complete ecosystem of capability – it's building up supply chain, it's building up engineering capacity, technical mechanical capacity. It is bringing the build, not the kit, to India," PTI quoted Marc Allen, president of Boeing International and a member of the Boeing Executive Council, as saying.

Dogfight sparks arms sale race
In February this year, amid a sharp rise in Indo-Pak hostility over Pulwama and IAF's subsequent cross-border airstrike, India had scrambled jets to hunt down Pakistani fighters that reportedly entered airspace over Kashmir. During a much-publicised dogfight, an Indian MiG-21 piloted by Wing Cmdr Abhinandan went down in Pakistani territory.

The pilot was later returned to India after nearly three days of captivity. Questions were raised in various circles on why an almost obsolete MiG-21 had to take on a cutting-edge fighter like the F-16, as also on whether India has enough fighter jets to parry aerial threats and if India really possessed sufficient firepower to survive in the event of a two-front war in the skies.

Analysts say huge arms orders from India are long overdue. All big defence manufacturers are understandably gung-ho. Boeing is only the latest to join the queue.

Lockheed Martin — Boeing's fierce business rival — has been in the race for India's fighter jet market for quite some time.

In an offer that rivals Boeing's in scope and size, Lockheed Martin has already offered to bring its entire F-16 manufacturing base to India from America.

Boeing going Make in India way
The Super Hornet production line that Boeing intends to shift here will "make fighters for India in India". Another production line in US will cater to Boeing's American and international buyers.

The partnership will harness opportunities in India to deliver more-for-less (more capability for less cost), Boeing said.

Boeing's offer co-opts the expertise of a public-private partnership with HAL and Mahindra to make the F/A-18 Super Hornet in an advanced Factory-of-the-Future in India, PTI reported.

The current F/A-18 production, in the US, involves 60,000 jobs and 800 suppliers all of which can be replicated in India, PTI quoted Boeing as saying.

Know your Super Hornet
Under Boeing's offer, all future F/A-18 Super Hornet upgrades may be co-developed with India. In essence, it would mean enhanced performance, more indigenisation and easier affordability for decades to come.

The fighter in question — the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet — is a twin-engine supersonic jet. The multi-role, carrier-capable fighter is an all-weather combat jet. Its design gives it both offensive and defensive capabilities.

Boeing said a deal could include building a next-generation fighter in India — and also building its famed ecosystem with HAL and Mahindra along with Boeing's partners.

If India agrees to a deal, it will boost both the IAF and the Indian Navy in a big way, Boeing said. The Super Hornet is the airplane that fits the requirement of both the forces, and its local production will eventually lead to defence industrial activities on a huge scale, said president Allen.

Boeing's industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, GE Aviation and GKN Aero.
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