U.S. open to selling F-35 jet fighters to India

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 3, 2011 6:18am IST

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), planes arrive at Edwards Air Force Base in California in this May 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp/Handout

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), planes arrive at Edwards Air Force Base in California in this May 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed interest on Wednesday in selling its most sophisticated fighter to India, just six months after New Delhi rejected two older U.S. warplanes in a competition for an $11 billion contract.

The U.S. Defense Department, in a report to Congress on U.S.-India security cooperation, said if New Delhi indicated an interest in Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon would be willing to provide information on the aircraft's security and infrastructure requirements.

"The F-35 is something that we would be more than willing to talk to the government of India about should they request to find out more information about purchasing it," said Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South Asia.

The F-35 is the Pentagon's costliest weapons procurement program. The radar-evading aircraft is being developed with eight international partners and officials estimate it will cost $382 billion for 2,447 of the jets for the U.S. military.

India has not shown a particular interest in the program. When U.S. officials have indicated openness to Indian participation in the past, Indian officials have indicated they were not interested due to the cost and efforts to develop their own stealthy aircraft.

New Delhi rejected two older U.S. aircraft -- the F-16 and the F-18 -- in a bidding contest in April for a $11 billion jet fighter contract. India shortlisted European defence firms Dassault and Eurofighter for the contract for 126 jet fighters.

Scher said the inclusion of the F-35 offer in the report was not prompted by any signals from New Delhi but was intended as "an example of the high regard" the United States had for bilateral ties and India's military modernization effort.

The nine-page Pentagon report said the Defense Department was continually looking for ways to expand defence cooperation with India, including joint development of arms as the military-to-military relationship matures.

"We are seeking opportunities for increased science and technology cooperation that may lead to co-development opportunities with India as a partner," the report said, noting that New Delhi is working with Russia to develop Sukhoi/HAL radar-evading fifth-generation fighter.

(Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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