Indo-US de­fence ties – Re­tain the high


There was some spec­u­la­tion as to how the Indo-US de­fence re­la­tion­ship would pan out un­der the new US Pres­i­dent, as re­la­tion­ships do un­dergo change with new ad­min­is­tra­tions. Not that there was any rea­son for ap­pre­hen­sions con­sid­er­ing the in­di­ca­tions from the US post-elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Pres­i­dent Trump had al­ready called Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Jan­uary 24, four days af­ter his swearingin as Pres­i­dent, wherein he em­pha­sised that the US con­sid­ers In­dia a true friend, and he looked for­ward to host­ing Prime Min­is­ter Modi in the US later this year. The two lead­ers re­port­edly dis­cussed op­por­tu­ni­ties to strengthen the bi­lat­eral part­ner­ship in broad ar­eas like econ­omy and de­fence.

Then in Fe­bru­ary 9, the new US De­fense Sec­re­tary Gen­eral James Mat­tis called up De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar. Gen­eral Mat­tis com­mit­ted to build upon the tremen­dous progress in bi­lat­eral de­fence co­op­er­a­tion made in re­cent years, un­der­scor­ing the strate­gic im­por­tance of the US-In­dia re­la­tion­ship and In­dia’s role in ad­vanc­ing global peace and se­cu­rity. The Pen­tagon Press Sec­re­tary Cap­tain Jeff Davis re­leased a press state­ment af­ter the con­ver­sa­tion say­ing, “Sec­re­tary Mat­tis and Min­is­ter Par­rikar af­firmed their com­mit­ment to sus­tain the mo­men­tum on key bi­lat­eral de­fence ef­forts to in­clude the de­fence tech­nol­ogy and trade ini­tia­tive.” Davis said af­ter the phone call be­tween the two lead­ers which took place on Fe­bru­ary 8.

Ear­lier, De­fence Min­is­ter Par­rikar had writ­ten a let­ter con­grat­u­lat­ing Gen­eral Mat­tis af­ter his ap­point­ment. How­ever, dates of a fu­ture meet­ing be­tween Par­rikar and Mat­tis are not in­di­cated yet, espe­cially since some changes are ex­pected in the US de­fence set up. For ex­am­ple, the port­fo­lio of Frank Ken­dall, Un­der Sec­re­tary for Ac­qui­si­tion, Tech­nol­ogy and Lo­gis­tics (De­fence Tech­nol­ogy and Trade Ini­tia­tive (DTTI) with In­dia) is likely to be bi­fur­cated. Indo-US de­fence re­la­tion­ship have been grow­ing strong with fluid geopo­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics of the re­gion and the Indo-Pa­cific, in­clud­ing the ag­gres­sive act of a bullish China. For ex­am­ple, while Chi­nese nu­clear sub­marines are prowl­ing the In­dian Ocean and dock­ing at Pak­istani ports, Ad­mi­ral Harry B. Har­ris, Commander of the US Pa­cific Com­mand, had stated on Jan­uary 19, 2017, that US and In­dian navies have been shar­ing in­for­ma­tion on the move­ment of Chi­nese sub­marines and ships in the In­dian Ocean. He also said In­dia should be con­cerned about the in­creas­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

The ‘Make in In­dia’ project of­fers tremen­dous scope for en­larg­ing the Indo-US de­fence re­la­tion­ship. The US had pro­posed in De­cem­ber 2016 joint de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of fu­tur­is­tic mil­i­tary he­li­copters as well as in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles in the first such big-ticket pro­grammes un­der the DTTI. The US had sug­gested that the fu­ture in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cle (FICV) project can be a tri­lat­eral ven­ture with the in­clu­sion of Is­rael.

How­ever, this of­fer comes at a time when In­dia is hic­cup­ping its way through and in­dige­nous FICV project with six bid­ders in the fray: OFB; L&T; Mahin­dra; Pi­pavav De­fence & Off­shore En­gi­neer­ing; Tata Mo­torsBharat Forge con­sor­tium; and Tata Power SED-Tita­garh Wag­ons con­sor­tium. Whether In­dia will let these bid­ders free to pick up their for­eign part­ners (in­clud­ing Amer­i­can or Is­raeli or both) or re­view the project afresh in view of the US of­fer is the moot ques­tion. Re­view­ing the FICV project afresh will cer­tainly de­lay the project by an­other few years.

The sec­ond US of­fer is for par­tic­i­pa­tion in its fu­ture ver­ti­cal-lift (FVL) air­craft pro­gramme, in which In­dia has al­ready shown in­ter­est. This pro­gramme in­cludes de­vel­op­ment of five dif­fer­ent he­li­copters or ‘ca­pa­bil­ity sets’ over the next 15 years at a cost of around $8 bil­lion. How­ever, In­dia is un­likely to go for all the five types of he­li­copters, which range from light­weight to heavy-lift ones.

In­dia has al­ready inked $3.1 bil­lion deal for 22 Apache at­tack and 15 Chi­nook heavy-lift he­li­copters from the US, which are slated for de­liv­ery in 2019-20. At the same time, In­dia and Rus­sia have fi­nalised joint pro­duc­tion of 200 Kamov 226T light-util­ity he­li­copters worth $1 bil­lion al­beit get­ting this joint ven­ture (JV) ap­pears de­layed, with Rus­sians show­ing con­cern over the de­lay dur­ing the re­cent visit of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Ajit Do­val to Rus­sia. The prob­lem may well be fi­nances with the sec­ond suc­ces­sive neg­a­tive de­fence al­lo­ca­tion this year.

The In­dian armed forces are in the hunt for 1,200 he­li­copters of dif­fer­ent types over the next 15-20 years to re­place their age­ing fleets. So while the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited is also in­de­pen­dently tasked to de­velop 187 Kamov type he­li­copters, the re­quire­ments are large.

The US can cer­tainly bring down its own de­fence bud­get by mov­ing part of its arms in­dus­try to In­dia, even as some of the skilled tech­ni­cians may have to be brought in till skill de­vel­op­ment picks up in In­dia. At the same time, the US must re­view its as­sis­tance to Pak­istan as the hatch­ery of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, which is backed by China. Tam­ing the ‘deep state’ of Pak­istan can­not be ig­nored if the Indo-US de­fence part­ner­ship is re­ally to grow.

The US must re­view its as­sis­tance to Pak­istan as the hatch­ery of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, which is backed by China. Tam­ing the ‘deep state’ of Pak­istan can­not be ig­nored if the Indo-US de­fence part­ner­ship is re­ally to grow.



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