'MMRCA deal a missed opportunity for Indo-US strategic ties'

"We in the US government—and many Americans outside government--were deeply disappointed that the Indian Defence Ministry did not include an American firm in its shortlist for its once-in-a generation fighter jet acquisition, the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft tender," the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, said.

Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin had been aggressively biding for the anticipated USD 11 billion deal for at least 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

"We see this as a missed opportunity to take the US and India to the next level of strategic cooperation; a US fighter jet would have been a long-term investment in what our defence forces could do together, enabling new levels of technology cooperation and relationship building between our two militaries," he said.

In his remarks on "The Current State of US-India Cooperation and Prospects for the Future," at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think-tank, Blake argued that the Lockheed Martin F-16IN – as configured specifically for India.

The fighter jet – would have included state of the art avionics, engines, and sensor packages that would make them among the most formidable fighters ever deployed – a fact that he thinks has been made abundantly clear during the past several years.

"The US offers were very competitive in terms of cost, and our firms' competitiveness and efficiency would have provided reliable support that is second to none. Most importantly, these sales would have provided a ladder to even higher levels of US-India technology transfer. It is a source of puzzlement and disappointment that the Indian Air Force did not see the advantages of the US aircraft," Blake argued.

The US-India story still contains untapped potential and unrealised gains. India is on track to have the largest population on the planet by 2030, and might have the largest economy by 2050, he said.

"India is a rising giant whose influence is being felt not only in the Indian Ocean, but clear across Asia Pacific to the shores of the Americas, in Africa, the Middle East, and in Central Asia.

"Its rise – fueled by a young, optimistic, dynamic, educated population – may well be the biggest story of the 21st century. And it's that 21st century focus on innovation and science where we are creating lasting areas of collaboration with India that will change our shared futures," he said.

Commenting on the strategic partnership he said, "The US-India partnership is a long-term friendship, not a tit-for-tat business arrangement. Sales are a way to facilitate technological and strategic linkages, enabling our armed forces to work together more easily, and we plan to continue strengthening our defense ties through increased sales and exercises."

Noting that the most recent milestone in exponential growth in US-India ties came last November, he said the visit of the US President, Barack Obama, will be remembered as a watershed, when the US and India embarked at a new level on concrete initiatives to build a global strategic partnership.

"Yet, while we've made undeniable strides in our relations during this still very new century – our minds fresh with the images of the President's memorable outreach to business leaders and school children in Mumbai and his delivery of a historic articulation of our unique ties in the Indian Parliament in New Delhi last November – we shouldn't overlook the influence of the dynamic figures of the last century, the early pioneers of our fledgling bilateral ties," he said.

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