India lets US know: F-16s for Pak could cloud IAF’s 126-plane deal
While Pakistan may have pitched hard with the US for early transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft and other sophisticated military equipment, a concerned India is learnt to have raised the stakes by indicating to the US that such a transfer may not go down well at a time when two US companies are bidding for the 126 multi-role combat aircraft tender floated by India. This $10 billion-plus tender is considered one of the biggest international military contracts in the world now. At present, six companies are in the fray: F-16 from Lockheed Martin (US), Boeing’s F-18 SH (US), Eurofighter from a European consortium, the Rafale from France, the Swedish Gripen, and Russian Mig-35.
Most trials are over with the IAF planning to shortlist contenders on the basis of their performance in the next few months.
Pakistan has been in negotiations with the US on obtaining 18 F-16s for the past few years. However, this has been riddled by fears of it being used only to strengthen its military capabilities against India and not justifiably needed in the war against terror.
The Obama Administration had initially said it would ensure that military aid is directed to building Pakistan military’s capacities in counter-insurgency warfare alone.
In this context, India has been concerned over reports that Washington is now making way for F-16 supplies along with laser-guided bomb kits besides other sophisticated equipment. It’s learnt that the matter came up for detailed discussion during Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s recent visit to Washington, which was meant to carry forward the conversation on high technology trade.
While the US assured India that it was not contemplating to move forward with a Pakistan-specific nuclear deal which would only accentuate proliferation concerns in the region, there has been lesser clarity on military sales and transfers. India, sources said, has told the US that the intention of the Pakistan government seems to be to only build its military profile against India using American aid. Weapon systems such as the F-16 aircraft are a clear pointer to this, added sources.
By linking this with the 126-aircraft MMRCA deal, India is not ruling out the possibility of such a transfer to Pakistan becoming a factor in its ultimate selection process.
This apart, Rao’s visit also saw India underline the need for Washington to do a prompt rethink on the entities list which still has certain ISRO entities on the list and that this does not augur well with the fact that the two countries worked together in the successful conduct of the Chandrayaan mission.
Given that there is already a case-by-case clearance mechanism before transfer of high technology goods to any Indian entity, India feels that this “double screening” is proving counterproductive.