US firms to go full throttle at Indian aero expo

February 9th, 2009 - 4:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Feb 9 (IANS) Riding high on the winds of change in India-US ties since the signing of the civilian nuclear deal, American aerospace prowess will be at full throttle during the Aero India-2009 international air show beginning here Wednesday.

“The US will be the largest participant at Aero India 2009 in terms of space taken up to showcase an array of military and civilian aircraft for static and flying displays. With a huge contingent, our presence will be larger than at any previous Indian air show,” a US consulate official told IANS.

Though the number of US firms participating in the five-day biannual event at 22 is lower than that of other countries, the presence of its aerospace majors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter with their fleet of fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters, hi-tech equipment and products will be a major attraction and show of strength.

“Our participation in a big way highlights the US administration’s commitment to increase defence cooperation with India and the importance it places in international defence arena. Besides top military leaders and defence department officials, top officials of aerospace firms will be present at the event,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Owing to security and operational reasons, detailed information on the products and technologies being showcased and marketed by the participating firms have not been made public.

Lockheed’s F-16 and Boeing’s F/A-18F Super Hornet are in a hot race to win the Indian Air Force (IAF) contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). Both have flown in a couple of the combat-proven strike fighters for static and aerial demos with a full weapons payload involving breath-taking maneouvres twice a day at the Yelahanka air force station, 20 km from the city.

Vying with F-16 and F-18 in displaying air power will be Eurofighter Typhoon of EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space), Gripen of Saab, French Rafale of Dassault and Russian MiG-35 of MiG for the lucrative IAF order, estimated at about $10 billion (Rs.500 billion/Rs.50,000 crore).

“India’s growing aero-space and defence industry offers significant opportunities for growth and productivity. Our participation will underscore our commitment to India and foster stronger ties with our Indian customers and partners,” said Boeing India president Ian Thomas in a statement.

The recent comments of secretary (defence production) Pradeep Kumar that the global meltdown would not impact India’s military modernisation have reassured the global aerospace industry of the market potential in the sub-continent.

India plans to purchase military hardware valued at Rs.1.4 trillion ($30 billion) over the next five years.

“The global meltdown is a reality but India’s military modernisation will continue as before. There is no question of scaling down our modernisation plans,” Kumar said in New Delhi Feb 2.

In this context, the signing of the biggest-ever military deal with the US on Jan 5 for eight Boeing P8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for the Indian Navy has encouraged the global firm to pitch for more such deals from the Indian defence services.

Boeing’s programme manager for airborne anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Richard Buck will highlight the salient features of P-8I and P-8 reconnaissance aircraft.

The P8I, which is based on the Boeing-737 platform, has been specifically developed for the Indian Navy’s requirements. The aircraft, which is still in the conception stage, is expected to fly by 2012.

The Boeing exhibit will also feature models of its commercial jets such as 787 Dreamliner, planes of the 777 family, the 747-8, freighter series and the next-generation 737 family, besides a range of products and services.

Boeing’s rival Lockheed, which has bagged the $1-billion order for six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the Indian Air Force in early 2008, has roped in Indian ace shooter and Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra to fly in the F-16 at the air show.

Bindra will become the third high-profile Indian personality to fly as a ‘co-pilot’ in a fighter jet after Tata group chairman Ratan Tata who flew a F-16 at the 2007 air show and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who flew in an IAF Sukhoi SU-30MKI at Pune in June 2006.

General Dynamics, a global leader in providing defence-related information and communication systems, combat vehicles, munitions, weapon systems, special-mission aircraft and commercial space-related systems opened its India liaison office in New Delhi last week to provide assistance and information to potential Indian customers.

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