The Battle for IndiaIt was reported today by eDefense's New Delhi correspondent Pulkit Singh that the Indian Air Force is planning to upgrade a large number of it combat aircraft due to concerns that the service may be facing serious obsolescence issues until at least 2012. Given the aircraft involved -- primarily MiGs, Jaguars, and Mirages -- much of this upgrade work will likely go to European (including Russian) and possibly some Israeli contractors. A conservative estimate puts the total value of the work at some $3.5 billion, but that pales in comparison to the real prize up for grabs in India: the country's $7-billion program to acquire 126 new multirole, medium-range combat aircraft.
India's selection of an aircraft under this program will have a profound effect in one of the world's most rapidly growing military markets. The British and Swedes have thrown their collaborative hat in the ring with the JAS-39 Gripen, the Russians with the MiG-29, the French with the Mirage-2005V, and the US with the F-16 and possibly the F/A-18E/F. Given that the Indian Air Force operates primarily Russian-made fighters, the service could, of course, opt for the safe route and go with the known quantity. The same is true of the Mirage, earlier versions of which are already in service with the Indian Air Force. India could also stick with Europe and choose the Gripen -- probably not a bad choice, considering the relatively low price. The Gripen, though, as eDefense European Editor Michal Fiszer has pointed out, is perhaps better suited for small- and medium-size countries, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, that have air defense as a priority. India, in its quest for a "multirole" fighter more than likely wants an aircraft that can conduct strike, as well as air-defense, missions.
Should India decide to change course, though, the US is poised to provide F-16s (and maybe F/A-18E/Fs. But wait...the US has already sold F-16s to India's regional rival, Pakistan, and intends to sell even more, although the deal has been delayed to to the recent earthquake that rocked Pakistan. That said, however, expect the US to pull a hard-sell for its aircraft. There are a number of reasons why the US would sorely want to sell its fighters to India, but perhaps most important are the ties to the US created by a sale of advanced military hardware like F-16s. With F-16s in the inventory of a country's air force, that country is dependent upon the US for spare parts, training, and certain upgrades, thus forging links between its air force and the US Air Force, as well as between the defense industries of the two nations. In addition, and maybe even more importantly, a sale by the US of advanced fighter aircraft to another country confers a significant diplomatic status upon the buyer -- that of US ally. So selling F-16s to both India and Pakistan would effectively make both countries US allies, and allies of the US simply do not go to war against each other.
With both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers now, avoiding a war between the two is in everyone's interest.