Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Growing Defence Cooperation Between India and US

by Gulshan R. Luthra

The India-US defence cooperation seems to be steadily growing with Washington now offering its latest Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35 Lightning-II aircraft to India. But in the long run, there could be limitations over issues of transfer of technology (ToT) that India mandates now for major arms deals.Representatives of Lockheed Martin, which is developing the aircraft, had indicated in the past that the aircraft could be available to India if the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted for the F-16 Super Viper in its quest for some 200 Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCAs) but recently the company made a presentation to the Indian Navy without this condition.

Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for Business Development Orville Prins told India Strategic defence magazine that the presentation about F 35 was made to the Indian Navy recently after it expressed interest in the newer generation of aircraft for its future carrier-based aircraft requirements.Although the best of the weapon systems in the US are developed by private companies, the funding for their research and development is provided by the government, which exercises control on the resultant products and their sale to any foreign country. ToT is a serious issue and in most cases, technology, particularly source codes, is not shared even with Washington’s best allies in the West or the East.

Lockheed Martin apparently made the presentation to India after an authorisation by the US Department of Defense (DOD), but Prins pointed out that the F 35 could be sold only after clearance from the US State Department, for which bilateral negotiations between New Delhi and Washington would need to be held once India expressed its interest.The US is steadily emerging as a new supplier of sophisticated arms to India, which urgently needs to replace and augment its mostly outdated Soviet-vintage systems with high technology weapons of the 21st century.

Beginning 2002, when an agreement for the sale of 12 Raytheon’s artillery and short-range missile tracker system, the AN/TPQ 37 Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) was signed, the US has supplied systems worth nearly $ 4 billion.The figure though is much lower than what India still spends on air, land and sea systems from Russia. For instance, India has already committed to buy 280 SU 30 MKI aircraft, several ships, missiles and more.

US companies are steadily making presentations in India, and the acquisition of WLRs has been followed by deals for Boeing P8-I Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) for anti-submarine operations in the Indian Ocean, Harpoon anti-shipping missiles, Lockheed Martin’s six C 130J Special Operations aircraft with an option for six more, one amphibious transport dock ship Trenton, named INS Jalashwa, and its six onboard Sikorsky helicopters at nominal rates.

Over the last few weeks now, the Indian Ministry of Defence has sent firm orders, or Letters of Request (LoR) for 10 C 17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and 145 Bofors M 777 ultra light howitzers the Indian Army badly needs for its mountain operations.The competing gun from Singapore Technologies lost out as the company was mired in allegations of corruption in an Indian Ordnance Factory Board scam.

Originally, a Swedish company, Bofors, was purchased by the US United Defense in 2000, and later acquired by the US arm of BAE Systems. In fact, as the US Administration had imposed restrictions on the sale of military equipment to India after the 1998 nuclear tests, President Bill Clinton went out of the way to allow United Defense-Bofors an exception to sell its guns to India if the Indian Army opted for them.

The Indian Army is badly in need of various types of artillery guns, and keeping in mind the developments in the neighbourhood, the Indian government recently cleared the acquisition of this ultra light howitzer in a government-to-government deal under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The gun has been deployed with excellent results in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. Made with titanium alloys, the M777 is about 40 per cent lighter than a standard gun and can be easily transported under-slung by a helicopter.

Bofors has been much maligned in India due to the allegations of corruption in the sale of its 155 mm FH 77B guns in the mid-1980s. Operationally, however, these guns played a significant role in India ‘s victory in the 1999 Kargil War to evict Pakistani intruders from the Himalayan heights on the Indian side of the border.India has also deployed the gun at the highest battlefield in the world at Siachin. Ferrying them to those daunting heights in parts and then assembling them has been a tedious job by itself for the Army.

LoRs for both the C17 and M777 have been issued only in the past couple of weeks. India has less than 20 IL 76 Soviet-supplied IL 76 aircraft, which will mark 25 years of their induction in April 2010.The C 17 has nearly double the capacity of an IL 76 but full load on an aircraft is never really carried as it hinders its range and fuel capacity. Unlike the IL 76, the C 17 can be refuelled midair for much longer flights, and needs only two pilots and one loadmaster for operations, that is half the crew of what the IL 76 requires.

Despite its massive size, the C 17 can take off and land on unpaved grassy fields like a football ground at very steep angles, an important capability in battle conditions. It’s the same for C 130J. On offer is also Northrop Grumman’s Hawkeye E2-D, a battle management and electronic warfare aircraft that can operate from carriers or land.Like the Boeing P8-I, this aircraft is also under development for the US Navy, and if the Indian Navy opts for it, then it would get this highly sophisticated technology at nearly the same time as the US Navy.

According to Orville Prins, Lockheed Martin had also given demonstrations on “the world’s most advanced shipboard anti-missile Aegis system,” which had been used two in 2008 to shoot down a satellite apparently as part of technology demonstration by Washington.Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems head for India, Dr Vivek Lall, describes this transfer as “unprecedented.” The US is steadily opening its stable of sophisticated weapons to India. But how far India goes in buying the US systems will largely depend not only on the technology and price offered, but also on the transfer of technology that most major deals now warrant as a policy.

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