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Lockheed ponders F-35 sale to India

June 23, 2011 at 6:20 AM   |   Comments

NEW DELHI, June 23 (UPI) -- Lockheed indicated it could still be in the running for an $11 billion fighter jet sale to India despite the government rejecting its F-16 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin's stealth F-35 Lightning II, still in the development stage, could be on the table if the foreign sale is approved by the U.S. government, although no firm decision has been made by Lockheed, a spokesman for Lockheed said at the Paris Air Show.

However, the deal for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft stands to boost India's procurement cost by at least half, to around $17 billion.

"The decision has to be taken by the (U.S.) government. There has not been any discussion between us and the Indian government," Michael J. Rein, Lockheed Martin's director of communications for the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 project, told the Press Trust of India.

The possibility of a foreign sale inched closer last week after the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee asked the Defense Department to study the desirability and feasibility of an F-35 sale to India.

Lockheed has been in informal discussions with India since early 2010 regarding a possible F-35 sale. A presentation about the aircraft was made to the Indian navy after it expressed interest in the newer generation of aircraft for its future carrier-based aircraft requirements, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Business Development Orville Prins told the defense Web site India Strategic in January 2010.

Apart from Lockheed's F-16, the other original planes in the running for the contract were the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from Boeing, the Rafale by French firm Dassault, the Russian-made MiG-35, the Gripen from Swedish company Saab and the Eurofighter Typhoon from Europe's EADS.

EADS -- European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company -- was formed in 2000 through the merger of Aerospatiale-Matra of France, DaimlerChrysler Aerospace of Germany and Construcciones Aeronauticas of Spain. The EADS Eurofighter project also includes Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Finmeccanica.

Lockheed was bounced from the Indian competition -- along with Boeing -- in late April, just after the Indian air force said it wouldn't accept last-minute sweeteners from bidders, including one unnamed manufacturer's alleged attempt to offer a bigger engine.

The MiG-35 and the Swedish Gripen also are out of the running, leaving the French Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Just how realistic is Lockheed's chance of re-entering the bidding remains unclear. The long-awaited aircraft deal -- the tender was issued in August 2007 -- will be one of India's largest capital military expenditures likely in next several years. A decision could be made by late July, the Indian air force said in April.

Many of India's nearly 800 fighters are aging Soviet-era and Russian aircraft, including the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, MiG-27 and MiG-29 and some Sukhoi Su-30MKI planes.

The air force also has Anglo-French Sepecat Jaguar and French Mirage 2000 aircraft produced under license.

The MRCA deal is imperative for the air force because of the age of its largest aircraft by numbers, the MIG-21, a 1970s fighter.

Lockheed is looking to sell 2,400 of the stealth fighters to the U.S. military at a cost of around $133 million each.

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