Even as the US ambassador tried to placate a peeved India by promising superior F-16s to India, the government on Tuesday played hard to get.
In a signal to the US that it has other defence suitors, the cabinet committee on security, parceled out a clutch of defence orders among countries as diverse as Russia, Germany, Italy and Israel. The decision was long awaited but its announcement was timed to register India’s annoyance with the US’ sale of F-16 to Pakistan.
In fact, the government, under attack from the Opposition for letting the F-16s go to Pakistan, made no bones about its feelings. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the purchase orders at a press conference.
The defence orders cleared included 12 used Mirage 2000 V fighter aircraft from Qatar. Mukherjee said India would start price negotiations soon on these planes. The CCS also cleared acquisition of 11 Dornier 228 aircraft from Germany for maritime surveillance, virtually as a gesture set against the US offer to sell PC-3 Orions to India.
The overall political import of the decisions was clear. India will buy complete propellant facility, induct 9 offshore patrol vessels for the Indian navy, purchase a C-303 submarine fire torpedo decoy system from Italy and manufacture 8 more in India, upgrade British Sea Harriers by Israeli company Rafael, fitting these with latest air-to-air missiles from Israeli firm Raphael, combat manoeuvring flight recorder, and digital cockpit voice recorder.