2016-06-16 By Gulshan Luthra
Ever since President Bill Clinton…. Washington has steadily made attempts to come closer to New Delhi.
President Clinton was impressed by India’s measured response in launching the limited Kargil War in 1999 to evict the Pakistani army from the Kashmir heights it had intruded into. In fact, when Islamabad made ‘foolish’ suggestions to use nuclear weapons against India, Mr. Clinton is reported to have drawn attention of the Pakistani leaders to an Indian response which would have simply deleted that country.
The events at that time apparently convinced the US administration of India’s growing maturity, and in 2005, the State Department decided to seek strategic relations with India, declare it a global player, and offered to sell a variety of sophisticated weapons to India.
In fact, a month before the State Department gave indications in this regard, US companies welcomed Indian journalists at the IDEX’05 defense show in February in Abu Dhabi. I happened to be there, and was surprised to learn that from Raytheon to Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky and Boeing that everyone was looking forward to sell arms to India.
It was there that Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a former US envoy to New Delhi and then a Board Member of Boeing, told me that the F/A-18 Super Hornet was on offer to the Indian Air Force (IAF). In fact, he had just reached the UAE capital after attending the Aero India show in Bangalore, where he had interacted with the Ministry of Defence and IAF.
I was surprised and wrote in a local newspaper that “looks like, Uncle Sam is ready to offer AMRAAM, SLAMRAAM AND DamnRAMM to India.” (The first two items are advanced missiles made by Raytheon).
In 2004, US sold Raytheon’s Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) to the Indian Army under the first Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal. Ever since, US companies have logged about $12 to $14 billion worth of sales to India, though mostly by Boeing.
Many items are still in the pipeline, and both Lockheed Martin and Boeing are also back in the fray to sell their respective F-16 Super Viper and F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft which had lost to the French Rafale in the MMRCA competition.
Both these aircraft, BAE Systems’ M777 howitzers with Raytheon’s Excalibur munitions, Honeywell’s jet engines for Jaguar aircraft and Sikorsky’s helicopters should be on the agenda of Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics when he visits New Delhi in July to follow on the visit of the Indian Prime Minister.
IAF is loaded with old 1970s and 1980s generation aircraft, and has been pressing the Government for new generation manned and unmanned combat assets.
On top of India’s list is Predator C, or Avenger, the latest unmanned precision strike machine being rolled out by General Atomics.
The two countries have been in informal discussions for some time in this regard, but as it could be sold to India only after its entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), New Delhi has formally mentioned this in a wish list during the just-concluded visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington.
It wouldn’t still be easy for the US to sell this most sophisticated technology to India, even after declaring it as a Major Defense Partner, given the history of uneasy relations between the two countries.
New technologies are difficult to part with or share, but then, Washington has shared the best of its airborne anti-submarine technologies on board its Navy’s Boeing P8 Poseidon with the Indian Navy in the form of P-8I.
Nonetheless, at best, President Barack Obama, who has been as friendly to India as his predecessor George Bush was, can ask the State and Defense Departments to consider the Indian request. A lot of decisions would be left to his successor who would take over in January 2017.
There would be riders; India could be asked to opt for at least one of the two aircraft. After all, IAF needs to replace most of its inventory and the deal with France for Rafales is going to be limited, given the cost issues that have erupted between New Delhi and Paris. India has asked for 36 aircraft, or two squadrons. IAF wants some more, but the bulk of the required numbers would have to come from elsewhere.
IAF needs both single and twin engine aircraft but of the MMRCA type. Both Rafale and Super Hornet have twin engines while the F-16 has a single engine. Notably, the single engine Swedish Gripen is also making a very aggressive attempt to capture the IAF requirement.
What is eventually selected depends upon the Indian Ministry of Defence.
What is significant is that besides the critical parameters of equipment, strategic equations with the country of manufacture are going to have a clear and decisive role in the selection process.
New Delhi and Washington have had a history of unease, given the military alliances that the US forged with Pakistan since the 1950s. But Pakistan looks for money and weapons, and despite generous help from the US, is now known as an NMTP (Nuclear, Missile and Terror Proliferator) state.
In its frenzy of unneeded hatred against India, Pakistan has also leaned towards China and given Beijing access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean for the first time through a land route connecting with its Gwadar port. This has long term implications for the region, particularly as China has declared that it is going to preposition naval assets – like aircraft carriers and submarines apparently – in different oceans.
China has already shaken its littoral neighborhood by claiming most of the South China Sea.
There is combination of factors which will bring India and the US together, even though New Delhi is keeping a highly significant exit clause in its relations with Washington. There will be cooperation, but not in conflict!
But the relations are getting stronger.
Diplomatic Equations and Military Cooperation are set to grow, particularly in view of developments in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions.
It is best to conclude here by what Mr. Modi himself said in his address to the US Congress:
“Mr. Speaker, My final thoughts and words would reiterate that our relationship is primed for a momentous future. The constraints of the past are behind us and foundations of the future are firmly in place.
In the lines of Walt Whitman, the Orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal.
And to that, if I might add, there is a new symphony in play.”
For additional India Strategic stories looking at the evolving relationship, see the following: