In what may be seen as a big boost for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, rivals Boeing and Lockheed Martin (LM) have agreed to manufacture F16 and F/A 18 fighter jets in the South Asian country.

According to sources close to the Indian Defence Ministry, senior officials of the two US-based global aerospace, defence, security and advanced technologies companies with worldwide interests made the offer during the first government facilitated talks on producing an American fighter jet in India. During Tuesday’s talks in the Indian capital, Boeing and LM officials said that they were ready to locally manufacture the F16 ‘Super Viper’ and a customised F/A 18 ‘Super Hornet’ jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF). Director (for International Co-operation) of Pentagon Keith Webster was also present at the meeting.

Meanwhile, senior Indian officials associated with the project informed the media that the Modi government would make a final decision in this regard only after US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s April 12 meeting with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. India will have to hold government-level talks with the US before allowing Boeing and LM to manufacture fighter jets in the country.

In the past, New Delhi did not allow foreign players to produce fighter jets in India. However, Defence Minister Parrikar recently indicated a change in the government policy, announcing that the Modi administration planned to set up production lines for ‘one or two’ fighters in order to meet the IAF’s requirements. The announcement has encouraged global players, like Boeing, LM and Sweden’s Saab, to build a production base in India. (In fact) foreign players sensed an opportunity to manufacture fighter jets in India when France admitted (on March 19) that India might not purchase Rafale fighter jets from the European powerhouse due to sharp differences between them over the price.

Foreign players are mainly targeting Indian requirement of ‘one or two’ fighter lines that will be offered under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route for ‘Make in India’ initiative. “The US defence administration is leaving no stone un-turned in emphasising to their Indian counterparts the ‘Make in India’ proposals from its leading defence majors. It would be interesting to see if other nations also follow suit,” said Ankur Gupta, the Senior Consultant (Indirect Tax) at Ernst & Young.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]