NEW DELHI – India (search) is considering buying American F-16 fighter jets for its air force, a news report said Sunday, just days after New Delhi protested a U.S. decision to sell the same aircraft to India's neighboring archrival, Pakistan (search).
India's air force now depends mainly on aging Russian planes.
American fighter aircraft and weapons' manufacturers have submitted proposals to India, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee as saying in the eastern city of Calcutta.
"If the military aircraft and other weapons needed for our national interest are available from the United States, we will certainly consider them," Mukherjee said.
His statement Saturday came a day after U.S. officials announced the sale of F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan and signaled that India could move ahead with its own weapon buys. The two nuclear-armed neighbor countries have been rivals for decades, and have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
India expressed "great disappointment" over the U.S. decision to sell fighter aircraft to Pakistan, and said doing so would tilt the military balance in the region and could harm India-Pakistan peace talks that began last year.
The United States has sold a variety of weaponry to India since lifting a ban on arms sales three years ago that had been imposed after an Indian nuclear test. Last year, in a move seen as a coup for India, the administration gave the go-ahead for Lockheed Martin to give India information for prospective sales of F-16s.
India's aging fleet of MiG-21 fighter jets — dating back to the 1960s — is the backbone of its fighter inventory, which also includes other MiG aircraft. Its 1,500-plane air force also has French Mirage and Anglo-French Jaguar planes.
On Saturday, Mukherjee said "cooperation in economic and other areas between the United States and India has increased manifold, but so far there has been no defense agreement between the two countries."
Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is scheduled to visit India next month to discuss disputes between the two countries.