Germany pushing India to buy Eurofighters

Germany is lobbying India to buy Eurofighter jets while offering to back India on its multi-billion-dollar submarine project that still needs technology, which India lacks.

The German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is on a visit to India, has conveyed Germany's keen interest in collaborating with India in defence technology and equipment, including defence manufacturing in India, cyber security and maritime cooperation.

Her visit comes close on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi cutting through an impasse over a troubled tender for front-line combat jets by announcing a shortened deal with France's Dassault Aviation last month, to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets (See: Rafale deal to be re-negotiated at govt level: Parrikar).

India had originally tendered for 126 medium multi-role fighter aircraft but opted to limit purchases to 36 ready-made ones, without going through the local content clause.

Since the deal with Dassault has been limited to 36 jets, rival aircraft makers are hoping the Indian government would reopen the $14-billion tender for fresh bids.

French company Dassault had earlier knocked out several aircraft makers, including the Eurofighter, in the final round of tendering, but controversy over the lifetime cost of operating the French plane blocked a final deal.

Eurofighter is made by a consortium of Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

"I again conveyed to the defence minister the interest of the Eurofighter nations in continuing talks, should the Indian side be interested," Von der Leyen said.

"That was taken on board positively," she added, after meeting her counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, on Tuesday evening.

Germany has taken the lead in the sales pitch to India for the Eurofighter, made by Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, Airbus Group and BAE Systems.

Von der Leyen said Berlin was also willing to support a project initiated by India last autumn to build six submarines at an estimated cost of Rs53,000 crore ($8.3 billion).

In a first stage, local shipyards would have to prove their fitness to build the diesel-electric subs, before being invited to bid for the deal, possibly with foreign partners.

"There is an Indian interest in industrial cooperation in building submarines," von der Leyen said. "Talks are already under way and I made it clear that German industry is supported by the German government."

Initial talks on submarine cooperation were under way involving ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, a unit of ThyssenKrupp AG (TKAG.DE), German media reported.

The German defence minister's visit to New Delhi is taking place close on the heels of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent highly successful visit to Germany. The visit would also pave the way for the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel's visit to India later this year.

Ursula von der Leyen will be visiting the Western Naval Command in Mumbai tomorrow, before concluding her 3 days official visit to India.