Why US-India Drones and F-16 deal is doomed to fail


New Delhi (Sputnik) — The visit of US defense secretary James Mattis to India has lost steam even before his arrival as it is highly unlikely that the two sides will make any significant announcement on defense deals.

Sources in India’s Ministry of Defense told Sputnik that differences persist between the two sides on the proposed deal for the US-manufactured MQ-9B Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and F-16 fighter jet.

“In June this year, the US State Department approved the sale of twenty-two Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial System drones to India but it is non-lethal version. The proposal is not as per the expectation from the Indian side. The two sides are still trying to reconcile the differences,” source said.

Indian Navy is in dire need of high-altitude, long-endurance drones which can be used for surveillance as well as in precision strike in Indian Ocean Region. However, the 22 UAVs offered by the US are non-lethal in nature which can fly non-stop for over 27 hours for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Therefore, the Indian Navy is now reportedly weighing an option on High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) from Israel, which India is quite familiar with. Israel is already supplying 10 Heron TP to India.

Meanwhile, US firm Lockheed Martin has shown its keenness to set up a production line in India for F-16 Block 70 combat aircraft along with its assembly line under the aegis of the bilateral Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), in case India commits purchase of single-engine fighter jet.
However, defense experts say that the F-16 is obsolete and has exhausted its potential for further development.

“Upgraded avionics cannot make the F-16 fly and maneuver better than the version of the aircraft with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which alas is its other negative. PAF long ago passed on an F-16 to China for its aircraft designers to study and to reverse engineer many of its technologies. 

So this plane is an open book for India’s two adversaries – bad situation for any “frontline” IAF aircraft to be in,” Prof Bharat Karnad, a former member of India's National Security Council and security analyst, says in his blog.

Nevertheless, India’s defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman, 19 days old in her current portfolio, expects some positive from the meeting. “Welcoming Hon'ble Defense Secretary of the USA, Gen James Mattis to India. 

Hope our engagement will strengthen strategic & defense cooperation between our two great democracies,” Sitharaman said before Mattis’ meeting with her and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.