Things are not looking good for Boeing (NYSE:BA) Defense.

Although the company has made inroads in UAVs, it suffered along with Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) last year when the Pentagon plucked funding for their F-22 Raptor. And while Lockheed has the next-gen F-35 Lightning II program to fall back on, the common wisdom in Pentagon hallways is that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter jet the U.S. manufactures -- meaning there won't be a next big fighter jet program for Boeing to bid on.

In short, Boeing's role in producing manned fighter jets seems limited to hawking Cold War relics to Third World countries -- which is precisely why it must win the competition in India.

Doing the deal in Dehli
Two years ago, I told you about the multibillion-dollar arms deal India has floated, inviting MiG, Saab, and Eurofighter to compete with Boeing and Lockheed to sell the country 126 fighter jets to update India's aging air force. Over the intervening years, both Boeing and Lockheed have advanced their chances of success by making "shoehorn" sales into the Indian market. 

First Lockheed and partner Honeywell (NYSE:HON) scored a six-plane deal to sell India C130-J military transports. Then Boeing upped the ante when it, along with partners Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) and Raytheon (NYSE:RTN), landed a P-8A Poseidon subhunter sale twice as large. (Incidentally, in so doing, they've opened the door for United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) and Textron (NYSE:TXT) to compete for Indian helicopter contracts. United Technologies subsidiary Sikorsky recently announced plans to make Black Hawks in India, and said it expects to bid on $8 billion-$12 billion in Indian contracts by 2018.)

But now, these gains are at risk. Reports out of India suggest that Eurofighter has taken an early lead in field trials for the contract, while both Saab and Mikoyan's MiG offerings are considered strong contenders. Phased trials should conclude in April, at which point India will shift consideration to matters of price. It's here that Boeing must find its edge.

No price too low
Lacking a willing customer in the United States (which recently shot down Boeing's suggestion that the F/A-18 could fill a perceived gap in the F-35 supply line), and lacking a next-gen fighter jet to build post-F-35, Boeing must seize the chance to shore up international sales of what it's got left -- the F/A-18. If Boeing wishes to remain in the manned fighter jet game, it must offer India a price too good to be true.

The alternative: Lockheed's F-35 will eventually arrive. It will grab more and more market share. Its per-unit cost will decline with each incremental sale. And ultimately, Boeing's jets will be priced out of the market.

Now's the time to act, Boeing: Give 'em a price too low to refuse.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not currently own any stocks named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.