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Shopping to arm


The bedrock of Indo-US ties is the growing defence engagements between the two countries
RANJIT BHUSHAN | Issue Dated: October 7, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : CISMOA | UPA | Indo-US | IAF | Apache Helicopters | Defence ministry | Prime Minister Manmohan Singh |

The Indian defence establishment is in the middle of one of its biggest arms purchases spree in recent times and the main vendor, as can be expected, is going to the United States. According to defence ministry sources, arms and ammunition deals worth Rs 5 billion are on the table for four major deals before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh goes to Washington this week, in what is being described as his most important state visit before General Elections next year.

Clearly, the bedrock of Indo-US ties at the present moment hinges around the big arms agreements that the two countries are expected to sign. The lynchpin of Indo-US ties is embedded in a growing defence relationship, the current basis for which was firmed up with the arrival of Pentagon deputy secretary for defence Ashton Carter to New Delhi between September 16 and 18.

And the Americans said as much. Pentagon press Secretary George Little told the media that Ashton and Indian officials ‘‘Held in-depth consultations on the ongoing political and security transitions in Afghanistan and other regional security issues, common multilateral engagements, joint military exercises, and the significant and growing defence trade between the two countries," adding that, ‘‘In addition to these meetings, deputy secretary Carter visited Hindon Air Force Station, where he was briefed by Indian Air Force pilots on India's co-produced C-130J's and recently procured C-17's.’’

Officials in South Block, headquarters of the Defence ministry, say they have cleared the purchase of six C-130 J Super Hercules special operations aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The engagement is pegged at Rs 4,000 crores and tops the list of such heavy duty purchases that the security establishment needs for the modernization of defence services.

Consider the following:
*** India and US are close to finalizing contracts for 22 attack and 15 heavy lift helicopters and 145 ultra light Howitzer field guns
*** The army is awaiting purchase of 145 ultra light Howitzers and M777 guns of the BAE systems. Both of these are expected to be inked in the months to come.
***Price negotiations are in an advanced stage for the purchase of 22 Apache Helicopters for the IAF
***IAF is in the process of finalising talks for the purchase of 15 Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Two US companies have emerged as the lowest bidders for the two contracts, beating off competition by Russian companies.

*** US has offered equipment for Indian Special Forces and electromagnetic aircraft launch system for navy’s second indigenous aircraft carrier which is said to be in design stage .

It would be no exaggeration to say that defence ties has come to dominate Indo-US relations. Traditionally, given India’s non-aligned status and rebuffs to the US in the decades that followed Independence, Soviet Union has been India’s biggest supplier of arms hardware. But the strengthening of relations between New Delhi and Washington has coincided with greater military interaction: in 2008, defence trade between the two countries was negligible; now the US is fast threatening to catch up with the USSR and may even exceed it in the immediate foreseeable future.

In the last half-a-decade or so, US firms have bagged deals worth roughly $8 billion. Among the biggest beneficiaries has been the IAF which got six C-130J Super Hercules and C-& Globemaster III transporters. The Indian Navy too has purchased eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft P81s from Boeing and can buy more.

Wrote former Indian ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, a key member of the Indian team which signed the nuclear deal with the US: ‘‘Strategic and defence relations are very important elements of this relationship and need to be taken forward. There have been a large number of acquisitions of equipment but we have faced some procedural problems and there have been some irritants. This is not befitting a strategic partner…We need to carry out joint projects like we have done with some other countries in the past.’’

Diplomats say that the zing that came into Indo-US ties in the post-nuclear deal phase has flagged in the recent past, not the least because the UPA government has been caught up in a series of domestic issues like scams and inflation and an opposition disrupting proceedings at successive parliamentary sessions, leaving the government little time to devote to foreign affairs, particularly its relationship with the US.

What has also come in the way of free flowing sensitive defence technology from the US to India is Washington’s insistence that New Delhi ink the Communications Interoperability of Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) which will enable greater interaction and interdependence on each other. Indian officials say the deal is ‘intrusive’ and is under consideration. However, India's defence needs are manifold and given the situation in the region, there is every chance that India will continue to occupy its position as one of the leading arms importers in the world.

Analysts say that the modernisation process in the three services needs to be given a boost. In addition to the defence services, urgent modernisation is required in the para-military organistions where too, the main arms imports will come  from the US. Washington too is aware of the realities. Look at it one way or the other, Indo-US ties can go no way except upwards. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017