US eyes ‘billions of dollars’ of arms sales to India

Washington, April 19 (IANS) As the US enhances its security partnership with India as part of Asia rebalance, American companies could see “billions of dollars” in additional weapons sales to New Delhi, according to a senior US defence official.

Noting that US military sales to India have grown from virtually zero in 2008 to more than $8 billion, Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told reporters Thursday “we think there’s going to be billions dollars more in the next couple of years.”

This was so despite India’s decision to choose French-built Rafale plane in preference to US made Lockheed and Boeing aircraft in a $10 billion competition for new fleet of advanced combat aircraft, he said.

“While that fighter competition loss was disappointing, we have made tremendous progress in the defence trade relationship,” Shapiro said.

US deputy defence secretary Ashton Carter, he said was “heading up a defence trade initiative with India, which we think is making some good progress and will, hopefully, lead to even a greater pace of additional defence trade with India.”

Shapiro, who is leaving the State Department at the end of this week, said his bureau “has been instrumental in enhancing our security partnerships in Asia and with new and emerging powers such as India.”

The resumption of a political-military dialogue with India after five or six years, he said, “was significant because we were able to help our Indian counterparts work through the challenges of interagency cooperation on national security issues.”

Indian officials “have remarked that this dialogue is especially helpful in helping coordinate between the various interagency partners in India,” Shapiro said.

The official said he had “been reading in the Indian press various rumours about” delays in India’s talks with France’s Dassault Aviation about the fighter deal, but had received no official word from India about a reopening of the competition.

“And obviously if there was a reopening, you know, US companies would have to consider whether they want to participate,” he said.

Shapiro said he also did not have an update on India’s separate naval fighter competition.

Asked about the possibility of selling advanced F-35 aircraft to India, Shapiro referred to a “report that came out that said that there might be down the road some potential for it, but certainly no decision has been made regarding sale of F-35 to India.”

“And it’s something, you know, down the road we might talk about, but it’s not something that we’re discussing right now,” he said.

US weapons makers including Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Raytheon Co are keen to sale their wares to India as it plans to spend about $100 billion over the next decade on its defence modernisation programme.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])

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