When US-India Business Council president Ron Somers made a pitch for US companies salivating to get a huge chunk of the order for 126 fighter aircraft that India intends to procure for its Air Force valued at $12-14 billion, Lt Gen (Retd) Satish Nambiar shot back that it is imperative that the US first alleviate the trust deficit that India has.
Somers had asked if US defence manufacturers would "still have a chance to be selling and working with India to transfer the best technology that is available to mankind," with regard to this massive procurement of fighter planes by India to upgrade its Air Force.
Nambiar reminded Somers of his introductory remarks where he had emphasised the importance of "trust and mutual respect," and said there seemed to be a trust deficit -- going by past experience vis-à-vis continuing transfer of state-of-the art technology -- that US business would have to rectify if the US-India defence relationship is to really take off.
Nambiar, a member of the Indian delegation in Washington to participate in the 10th US-India Strategic Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Aspen Strategy Group and the Confederation of Indian Industry, acknowledged that there was no question that "the defence relationship between the two countries is one of the strongest pillars," of the relationship in the past few years.
He said this strong relationship between the military professionals of the two nations -- as manifested by the recent Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal, had come about since the early 1990s "and there is no stepping back."
"The mutual respect among the military professionals between the two countries is clearly there and there's no problem," although it "may not translate into respect for what the administration is doing on either side."
But he argued that there was no doubt a deficit on the trust side which was an outcome of the "commitment of let's say the defence industry or establishment on the USA to provide state of the art technology to India."
Nambiar, currently director, United Service Institution of India, reiterated, "That deficiency does exist -- I would be only bluffing if I didn't say this."
"So that has to be overcome. That has to be at the heart," of a deepening defence relationship between the two countries. "That we will get state of the art technology, spares back up and the rug won't be pulled out from under their feet," he said.
Nambiar said that while this was one aspect that needed to be fixed, "the other aspect that I would suggest is that when you talk of this relationship, you must be clear that it is not an alliance."
"It has to be a relationship -- a partnership -- which means, that there will be a partnership and there will be issues on which the government of India -- even the military -- may not agree," with the US, "and this has to be accepted."
Nambiar added this is the crux of "what we are talking of any relationship -- that obviously there will be problems and that is where business will also have to do its share in making sure that this relationship is strengthened."
Somers evidently had got the message, when he assured Nambiar and members of the Indian delegation that "we are hearing loud and clear the issue of reliable supply."
"So my thoughts on that is give us a test-drive and we will reassure you," he said.