India rejects US tenders on military aircraft

Indian Air Force (IAF) has rejected Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet to acquire 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft at a cost of between $11 billion and $12 billion. The US embassy in New Delhi was formally notified about this rejection on Wednesday, 28th April 2011. US ambassador Timothy Roemer resigned on Thursday. He made his continuation in office untenable by publicly pitching so hard for the Indian order for the biggest military aviation deal in history that he became identified with the success or otherwise of the American bids. France’s Dassault Aviation and a four-nation European consortium, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), had been chosen for the final round in the extended selection process.

In March, in a long-shot diplomatic bid to win the contract, the Pentagon bent over backwards during the 11th meeting of the Indo-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) here and told defence secretary Pradeep Kumar that the US was climbing down from its contentious demand that India sign three foundational agreements for bilateral defence sales to proceed. The three agreements, which defence minister A.K. Antony has resisted, are Logistics Support Agreement, Communication Interoperability and a Security Memorandum Agreement and a Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Co-operation. A row over an End-User Verification Agreement was resolved in 2009 with both sides going halfway to meet each other’s positions for or against signing the agreement.

In separate statements issued today, Roemer announced his resignation and said he was deeply disappointed that two aircraft offered by the US government… were not selected for procurement by the Indian ministry of defence although they would have provided the IAF an unbeatable platform with proven technologies at a competitive price.

Overtly, there is no link between the ambassador’s resignation and the defence ministry’s decision, but US embassy officials made no effort today to dispel the impression that the rejection of the bids from Boeing and Lockheed Martin triggered Roemer’s departure.

In addition to President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian head of state Dmitry Medvedev have all pitched for their respective bids during visits to New Delhi last year.

The abruptness of Roemer’s unwillingness to carry on in India because of the perception in Chanakyapuri and on Pennsylvania Avenue that he is obviously diminished by the failure of the ambassador’s laser-sharp drive to sell US fighter planes to India.

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