March 5, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Boeing and Lockheed Martin are vying for India’s long-delayed fighter replacement program.
The dilapidated state of the Indian Air Force was thrown into sharp relief last week when Pakistan shot down an Indian pilot flying a Russian-made MiG-21 Bison, a fighter jet first flown in 1956.
The pilot ejected safely into Pakistani territory and was captured by the Pakistan Army. Islamabad released the airman a couple days later to de-escalate a crisis that began when a Pakistan-based militant group killed more than 40 Indian security officers in a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in India-controlled Kashmir.
The MiG-21 was not so lucky. Images of the wreckage quickly emerged on social media, as did the remnants of a U.S.-made AIM-120 air-to-air missile that India said was possibly used to shoot it down.
The loss of the jet shines a light on India’s aging military and may lend new urgency to New Delhi’s long-delayed fighter replacement program, analysts said. The renewed focus would be a boon for the U.S. aerospace giant’s Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which are eyeing the lucrative contract for more than 100 airplanes.
In addition to the immediate cash value for whichever company wins the work, India’s fighter replacement also offers Boeing and Lockheed the opportunity to extend the production of legacy systems that are reaching the end of their service lives.
“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”
Still, analysts noted India’s poor track record of moving quickly on defense acquisition programs. The shootdown may accelerate the recapitalization, said Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners, but “India must have known they have an aged fighter problem for a long time.”
The circumstances around the incident itself remain murky. India claims—and several news outlets have reported—that an aerial battle took place, an exceedingly rare event in modern warfare, during which the MiG-21 first shot down a U.S.-made Pakistani F-16, before itself taking a missile hit.
Both nations have technologically diverse air forces, and the skirmish involved U.S.-, European-, Russian-, and Chinese-made jets. The Telegraph reported that India’s 1980s-era French-built Mirage 2000s and much newer Russian-made Su-30 MKIs, first flown in the early 2000s, were present, along with Pakistani F-16s, French-made Mirage IIIs, and Chinese-made JF-17s.
For its part, Pakistan denies that its jet was shot down or that it used F-16s at all. Other reports, citing unnamed sources, said a JF-17 scored the shootdown. Still, the remnants of an AIM-120 missile, which the Indian government displayed publicly, do seem to indicate that F-16s were involved, as that jet is the only one in the vicinity that can shoot that particular missile.
The United States said Sunday that it was looking to confirm India’s claim, since Pakistan’s use of an F-16 to down an Indian fighter could potentially violate U.S. agreements. The U.S. State Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the record.
As tensions continue to simmer between the two nuclear-armed powers, one thing is clear: India needs new fighter jets, in short order.
For the better part of two decades, India has been trying to replace its legacy fighter fleet. But successive programs have failed due to government bureaucracy and local disputes. Most recently, in early 2018 India halted its plan to purchase more than 100 single-engine fighter jets (Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Saab’s Gripen-E were the only two contenders; the F-16 was favored) in order to reassess its military requirements and potentially open up the competition to twin-engine designs. This decision allowed Boeing to get in the game with its F/A-18 Super Hornet.
credit: In part with https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/05/indias-dogfight-loss-could-be-a-win-for-u-s-weapons-makers/?preview_id=961454&preview_nonce=bc0411e956&_thumbnail_id=-1