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US to India: “try us” as defence partner

INDIA: The United States has for the first time flown in its big guns for India’s air show seeking a slice of a market that may generate 30 billion dollars of defence deals in five years.

More than 50 firms from the United States are taking part in Aero India starting Wednesday, including Boeing, which makes the F-18, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16, General Electric and Raytheon.

The massive C-17 heavy lift-aircraft, the naval reconnaissance P-3 Orion and the CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter will all be in action over the skies of south India.

US Ambassador David Mulford recalled that his country’s representation at the last air show at this hi-tech hub in 2005, was limited to two F-15 fighter planes that did not fly.

“They were stationary on the runway,” Mulford said in Bangalore late Tuesday on the eve of the sixth edition of the event.

“This time, we have three F-16s and two F-18s, which will be flying, as will other airplanes.”

What the banker-turned-diplomat called the “heightened visibility” of the United States at the event is symbolic of the warming of a relationship that has often been uneasy.

Washington is plugging its companies to tap a market that may generate as much as 30 billion dollars worth of defence deals in the next five years.

India was the pre-eminent ally of the former Soviet Union, the United States’ Cold War rival, and still sources two-thirds of its military needs from Russia, its successor-state.

The US has also been the main military backer of Pakistan, the neighbour with which India has been to war three times since the subcontinent’s 1947 independence from Britain and subsequent partition. Relations have improved dramatically since the the passage last year of a landmark US-Indian deal allowing New Delhi access to civilian US nuclear technology after all such ties were cut following India’s first atomic test in 1974.

Ambassador Mulford, envoy to India for three years now, acknowledged that past memories may still rankle in some Indian memories.

“These are issues that go back in time,” he said, addding Washington wants to prove itself to be a reliable military supplier for the country.

Now, India should “try us,” he said, promising technology transfers and help in local production.

Bangalore, Wednesday, AFP.

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