Biden Administration Cleared Boeing F-15EX For Indian Air Force

Boeing F-15EX Multi-role Fighter Jet

Days after US aerospace giant Boeing said that it had received the go-ahead from the US government to offer its F-15EX fighter jet to the Indian air force, a senior American official Tuesday said the government to government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route offered a unique opportunity to India to acquire cutting edge US technology unmatched by any other procurement mode.

Boeing has received a licence from the U.S. government to offer its F-15EX fighter jet to the Indian air force, a senior executive said on Thursday.

Boeing will compete with Sweden’s Gripen and France’s Rafale among others for the Indian air force’s plan to buy 114 multi-role aircraft to replace its Soviet-era fleet.

Ankur Kanaglekar, director, India Fighters Lead, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told reporters discussions on the F-15EX had taken place earlier between the two governments.

Speaking at a press conference in Bengaluru on the eve of the Aero-India show, Kelli Seybolt Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, said that Washington was looking forward to the formal government communication from India to begin talks on the subject.

“FMS provides an opportunity to procure the most advanced fighting capabilities in the world and technologies with the level of transparency that is really unmatched by any other procurement path. We look forward to the formal government to government request from the government of India so that we can start the conversation about what the US fighters have to offer India as they look to choose their next fighter aircraft,” Seybolt said.

India is looking to replace its ageing fighter fleet comprised mainly of Russian origin aircraft. It floated a tender in 2018 for the 114 aircraft which is to be built under the “Make in India plan” by a joint venture between an Indian company and a foreign original equipment manufacturer with technology sharing. Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the US are competing with Sweden’s SAAB and France’s Dassault Aviation among others for the contract valued at about $15 billion. According to reports, Dassault Aviation which manufactures the Rafale that India is buying 36 of under a government to government deal, was a strong contender for the 114 aircraft deal.

India and the United States have built close defence ties, with the Indian military buying over $20 billion worth of weapons in the last 15 years.

Lockheed Martin is also pitching its F-21 fighter to the Indian air force, offering to build the plane in the country to win the deal estimated to be worth more than $18 billion.

Last month the Indian government gave its nod for 83 Light Combat Aircraft for the Indian Air Force that is to be made by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Also speaking at the press conference, Donald L. Heflin, Charge d’Affaires in the US embassy in New Delhi said Washington was urging all its allies and partners against buying defence equipment from Russia as it risks triggering sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Heflin’s comments came within days of the Biden administration taking office in Washington. It was mainly the Democrats who pushed through CAATSA in 2017 aiming to penalize Russia for its war against Ukraine, aiding the Syrian government and its alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.

“We urge all our allies and partners to forego transactions with Russia,” Heflin said adding that such moves would risk triggering sanctions under CAATSA passed by the Congress.

There was no blanket waiver from sanctions for any country, he said adding that the Congress would have to consider waiver on a case by case basis. “We have not made any waiver determinations with respect to Indian transactions with Russia,” he added.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Heflin pitched the US as a reliable defence partner of India which offered “ the world’s best defence equipment.”

“India plays a key role in the Indo Pacific region and our cooperation advances our shared vision of a rules based international order that promotes the prosperity and security of all countries,” he said.

The US designating India as a major defence partner in 216 “marked a milestone in India-US defence cooperation expanding the range and depth of our defence ties.”

Once seen as on opposite sides of the Cold War, with the US close to Pakistan and India seen as closer to the former Soviet Union, ties between the two countries have undergone rapid changes in the past two decades. The US is one of India’s foremost defence partners with New Delhi increasingly looking at American defence equipment to meet its needs. Indian defence purchases that were almost zero in the year 2000, currently stand between $18-20 billion.

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