Indo-US Defence Relations: Hagel Visits India


2014-08-28 By Guishan Luthra

New Delhi. Some years ago, Boeing offered assistance to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in building the much-needed wind tunnel for aerospace projects as part of the offsets for the company’s C 17 Globemaster III aircraft sales to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The offer was initially appreciated but found unacceptable, thanks to an accompanying note that prescribed many DO NOTs and restrictions.

DRDO Chief Dr Avinash Chander told India Strategic that the US Government, which would have dictated the restrictions to Boeing, would apparently not have weighed the inadequacy of the offer.

The informal talk I had with Dr Chander was just before the high level visits of US Secretaries of State, Commerce and Defense over the past few weeks in the run up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coming visit to Washington in September.

The three top US officials have spoken highly of the need to strengthen Indo-US relations, and specifically, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was here Aug 7-9, said: “We can do more to forge a defense industrial partnership, one that would transform our nations’ defense cooperation from simply buying and selling to co-production, co-development and freer exchange of technology.”

Indian officials have welcomed the US sentiment, and pointed out that India already has a policy of encouraging defense industrial production in India under the ‘Make’ category, and that the new Government of Prime Minister Modi is insisting on this with vigor.


European officials, including that of Airbus, and French diplomats say that India needs to indicate its requirements and the response from Europe should be positive. In fact, top officials of Airbus managed to meet Mr Modi just before his electoral victory to offer cooperation in defense industrial ventures in India.

India is interested in western technology both from Europe and the US.

The French Dassault has won the Indian MMRCA tender for its Rafale aircraft while Airbus Defence and Space has won the order for six midair refuelers called Airbus A330 MRTT.

But the flavor of the day is about Indo-US strategic, defense and nuclear relations, and both New Delhi and Washington are serious about sorting out any differences and moving forward to build on the spirit envisaged by the George Bush administration in 2005 that led to the Indo-US Nuclear deal.

In an address to New Delhi’s strategic community at an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) function on the final day of his visit, Mr. Hagel said that the two countries could build on their Defence Technology and Trade Initaitve (DTTI) agreement to “transform” their bilateral relations.

He welcomed proposals from India in this regard, and observed: “The fundamentals of the U.S.-India partnership are strong. The question is whether India and the United States can achieve the enormous potential for this partnership – whether we can transform our potential into results. Following my conversations yesterday, I’m more confident than ever that we can.”

An official statement by the Ministry of Defence after Mr Hagel’s meetings with Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Arun jaitley said: “With co-development and co-production of Defence products in mind, India and the United States have agreed to take the (two-year old) Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) forward.”

The statement also noted that Mr Jaitley had pointed out to the visiting dignitary that “the development of our own indigenous capabilities is a major objective that guides our present policies. In this direction, we have taken steps to raise the FDI cap in the defense sector. We look forward to work closely with the US in this regard.”

In the meeting, both sides took note of the progress made over the years in deepening defense ties. Both the sides reaffirmed their desire to further enhance bilateral defense cooperation, especially in technology and discussed ways for strengthening this partnership. Stressing on indigenization of the Defence industries.

Mr Jaitley would also be visiting the US, and top-level meetings at the Pentagon have been arranged to follow up the dialogue here.

Sec Def Hagel Meeting in India. Credit Photo: India Strategic
Sec Def Hagel Meeting in India. Credit Photo: India Strategic

The US Defense Secretary was apparently supportive of the Indian requests for technology, and told the strategic community at ORF that he was making an “unprecedented offer” to India to jointly develop a next generation of anti-tank missiles.

The Indian Army has been interested in Raytheon-Lockheed Martin’s Javelin missile but with coproduction, and that was earlier not agreeable to Washington.

Mr Hagel noted that the two countries had concluded deals worth over USD 9 billion already and a few, including for Boeing Chinook and Apache helicopters are on the table. He pointed out that Boeing C 17 strategic airlifter and Lockheed Martin’s C 130J Super Hercules had given tremendous advantages to the Indian Air Force.

From the US side, he pointed out, he had brought along the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Licensing at the Pentagon Frank Kendall, with clear instructions to speed up cooperation with India.

He made some other significant offers also, saying that the challenge is not about the shortage of proposals but “to seize the opportunities.”

“One such opportunity is a plan for both nations to jointly develop a next generation anti-tank missile. And this is an unprecedented offer that we have made only to India and no one else,” he emphasized.

The US Defense Secretary also called for limits on bureaucratic red tape.

As for the Wind Tunnel, perhaps it would come up again for discussions, and then, hopefully for action and fructification. It has not been on the two countries agenda for quite some time although delivery of the 10 C 17s ordered so far is due to be completed by end-2014.

On mutual diplomatic relations, Mr Hagel agreed that the two countries would not agree on every thing but pointed out that as India looks east and the US looks at rebalancing its interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the interests of the two countries “are aligned more closely than ever.”

He also urged closer cooperation between India and Japan in this perspective, adding that both Washington and New Delhi could maintain positive ties with Beijing.

Editor’s Note: India will be the operators of C-17s next to the United States.

And India has generated innovation as well in how it has used its C-130 airlifters in dealing with HA-DR challenges as well:

This story is republished with the permission of our partner India Strategic.