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Mostly dead air for U.S. firms at India show

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KAI RYSSDAL: From car parts to airplanes and their parts we go. India’s biggest airshow wraps up this weekend. More than 50 American defense and aerospace companies made their way to Aero India this year. They brought all their flashiest fighters and helicopters. And I bet they put on a heck of a show. But largely the trip was a long way to go for not much of a payoff. Miranda Kennedy reports from New Delhi.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: India said it will spend $30 billion upgrading its military over the next five years. But the biggest announcement at this year’s air show was a disappointment for U.S. defense companies: The Indian air force will buy 40 fighter jets from Russia, its biggest arms supplier since the days of the Cold War. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen brought the U.S. delegation here this week.

WILLIAM COHEN: We look at it with some confidence in the future that Russia is not simply coming in and grabbing up all the contracts, because that’s the way they’ve always done it. They’ve got a lot of old Russian equipment, and that’s going to have to be replaced. They’re looking to replace it with the best quality they can find. We think the United States will do very well.

That’s the expectation of the U.S. defense industry, after it lobbied congressional lawmakers to recognize India as a nuclear power. Now it wants something in return, in the form of lucrative military contracts. But India has made it clear it has other allies to consider, like Russia, Israel and China. The head of Boeing India, Anil Shrikhande, says he’s willing to sharpen his elbows.

ANIL SHRIKHANDE: We know there’s competition out there and we don’t take the competition lightly. But the whole environment of Indo-U.S. relationships is on an upward trajectory. And if we can come together on that, I see no reason why we can’t come together on the sale of military platforms.

Later this year, Boeing and Lockheed will bid against dozens of international companies for an order for 126 fighter jets for the Indian air force. That deal is worth as much as $9 billion.

In New Delhi, I’m Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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