Hopes pinned on big meet

Defence cooperation will be one of the areas to come up for discussion. The US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel during his recent visit to India has spelt out in broad terms what US seeks from India in matters of defence cooperation.

It is the US policy of rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific region that has made the super power to seek reliable allies in the region. The emerging economy and political power in the region, India, with its strategic location, has come as the best bet for US.

With India recently hiking the cap on the entry of foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence sector from 26 per cent to 49 per cent, the US views it as an unique opportunity. The India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) inked two years ago when the UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh was in power, has come as handy to further the defence engagements between the two countries.

The initiative, which was presented by the then US Defence Secretary Leon E Panetta and subsequently shepherded by the then US Deputy Defence Secretary Ash Carter, has on its agenda the proposals for co-production and co-development.

The Modi Government which is aggressive in its effort to modernise the Indian defence industry by liberalising its FDI policy is seeking to take the DTTI forward. Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley and US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, who was recently on a three-day visit to India, agreed to extend the new framework for the US-India defence relationship well before it expires in July 2015.
Jaitley, however, is hopeful that the cooperation would result in increased indigenisation capabilities of the Indian defence industry through co-production and co-development.

He said, ‘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 defence sector. We look forward to work closely with the US in this regard.’ The FDI policy has stipulated that that the projects will have full Indian management and control.

Technology transfer is the key to modernisation and Jaitley should note the words of Ash Carter who had earlier said, ‘We’ve adapted our system in ways that will speed our release process for India...especially in the Department of Defence, recognising that for all partners this process is subject to case-by-case review and there will always be some technologies that we will keep to ourselves.’ This means that India will not receive some key sensitive latest technologies.

There are other issues like relaxation in US export control regime, licencing agreements, licence exceptions, end-use monitoring which need to be sorted out by both sides. Other items on the table for co-production and co-development are maritime helicopter, naval gun, surface-to-air missile
system and scatterable anti-tank system.

Hagel has reiterated that India and US would co-produce and co-develop the next generation Javelin anti-tank missile. ‘This is an unprecedented offer that we have made only to India and no one else,’ he said. Javelin is a man-portable, fire-and forget, anti-tank missile employed by dismounted infantry to defeat current and future threat armoured combat vehicles.

While for the Javelin project US will partner only with India, there are several other defence projects US has with other countries, particularly with Australia, a strategic country in the Indo-Pacific region and with UK.

To rightly quote Carter, ‘We’ll ensure that those innovative projects receive priority funding. This is an approach we’ve only ever taken with the United Kingdom and Australia and now India will join that company.’

Hagel did not miss to spell out US game of rebalancing. While he was in Delhi at a public lecture at Observer Research Foundation he said, ‘But today, as India ‘Looks East’ and the United States ‘rebalances’, our interests across the full span of the Indo-Pacific region are aligning more closely than ever.’

Another aspect that draws US closer to India in defence cooperation is the growing Indian market. Since 2008, over $9 billion in defence contracts have been signed between US and India compared with less than $500 million for all the years before. This makes US one of the top three defence suppliers to India after Israel and Russia.

In March 2009, Obama administration cleared $2.1 billion sale of eight P-8 Poseidons aircraft to India that are patrolling the shores of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. During President Obama’s visit to India in November 2010, US signed $5 billion agreement to supply Boeing C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft and general electric F414 engines. US also agreed to supply six C-130 J Super Hercules special operations aircraft. US is also mulling sale of 22 Apache attack helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy lift helicopters, 145 ultra light howitzers, M777 guns of BAE systems.

India-US defence relations is waiting to take a final shape when the Indian Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi is scheduled to meet the US President Barak Obama for a summit level meeting in Washington in September and subsequently when Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley visits Pentagon in October. IPA


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