New combat aircraft will turn India into global giant: US expert

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Thursday, January 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - India’s acquisition of 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft will play an essential role in India’s transformation from a regional power to a global giant, according to a South Asia expert.

Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the Indian Air Force’s selection of a new medium multi-role combat aircraft.

The winner of the competition for the $10 billion deal will also gain a toehold in a lucrative market, writes Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, in a paper.

Analysing the technical and political factors India must consider in awarding the contract, Tellis argues that India needs to decide quickly, avoid splitting the purchase between competitors, and buy the “best” aircraft to help India prepare for future security competition in Southern Asia.

Challenges to India’s national security are increasingly complex, he says while noting, “India’s air force levels have reached an all-time low due to delays in its defence procurement process, accidents, and retirements of older aircraft. Meanwhile, China and Pakistan are aggressively modernising their forces.”

European aircraft are technically superb, but US entrants are formidable “best buys”, writes Tellis, who was intimately involved in the negotiations associated with the US-India civil nuclear agreement as an advisor in the Bush administration.

“Unfortunately, the advantages in the US fighters are not sufficiently recognised, so if Washington wants an American aircraft to win the game, it must offer generous terms on the transfer of technology, assure India access to fifth-generation US combat aircraft, and support India’s strategic ambitions.”

India also needs to consider its future force structure in making its decision, states Tellis, suggesting, “With combat aviation technology rapidly evolving, the Indian government should select the least expensive, most mature, combat-proven fourth-generation fighter as a bridge to procuring more advanced stealth aircraft in the future.”

“In making its decision, India’s government must keep the India air force’s interests consistently front and centre to ensure that its ultimate choice of aircraft is the best one for the service.”

“This will not only help India to strengthen its combat capabilities in the coming years, but position it as a rising global power worthy of respect far into the future,” he says.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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