Lockheed Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson made the offer to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September, Phil Shaw, CEO of Lockheed's Indian unit, said in an interview Thursday at the Singapore Airshow. The U.S. and Indian governments are negotiating the deal, he said.
Modi needs to quickly replace many of the air force's 650 planes -- a third of which are more than 40 years old -- and has vowed to turn India from the world's biggest weapons importer into a global hub for defense manufacturing. The country sold about $150 million of arms in the last fiscal year, a fraction of the $64 billion in worldwide defense trade and its own arms imports of $5.6 billion.
After coming to power in May 2014 with the country's biggest election mandate in three decades, Modi unveiled his ''Make in India'' campaign to boost manufacturing to 25 percent of gross domestic product by 2022 from 18 percent now. The cornerstone of the policy is attracting companies to set up factories in India for manufacturing.
India picked Paris-based Dassault Aviation SA in 2012 to build 126 warplanes at an estimated cost of about $11 billion -- at the time the world's biggest fighter-jet deal, and one in which Lockheed lost out. As talks stalled over price and quality guarantees, Modi flew to France last April and sought to directly buy 36 fighter jets from the French government in a bid to speed things up.
Lockheed Martin is "anxious" to know the Indian Air Force's requirements, which will help determine how many jets the country seeks to buy, Randall Howard, head of F-16 business development at Lockheed, said in the same interview.
Last week India summoned the U.S. ambassador in New Delhi to convey its displeasure at the planned sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor and biggest strategic rival. Howard called the proposed sale a government decision.
Indian Defense Ministry spokesman Nitin Wakankar didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
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