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Containing China: Why India and US are building close defence ties

By Rahul Bedi, for Rediff.com
January 21, 2015 14:49 IST

'India-US defence pacts are seen by many analysts as a subtle move to jointly contain China's growing militarism, especially in the strategic Indian Ocean Region,' says Rahul Bedi.

US President Barack Obama's India visit as chief guest at the Republic Day parade is expected to result in the inking of several defence agreements, to augment bilateral strategic ties between Washington and New Delhi for mutual benefit.

The overarching protocol, in this vast area of likely cooperation, is the 10-year Defence Framework Agreement that will succeed the earlier one which expires in June.

This agreement, which guides the entire range of military dialogue between the two countries, will enhance the scope of bilateral military exercises, reciprocal visits by military personnel, increased intelligence sharing and maritime cooperation.

Analysts view this pact as a subtle move to jointly contain China's growing militarism, especially in the strategic Indian Ocean Region. Japan and Australia too are a part of this growing quadrilateral anxious to limit Beijing's hegemonistic ambitions.

'Strengthening our ties with the US within the existing framework, by enlarging its scope, is definitely beneficial to the country,' Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told a television news channel recently.

The focus, he added, would not be on materiel procurement, but on joint development of military technology.

Consequently, the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, under which the US is willing to transfer to India at least 17 military technologies, too will be advanced during Obama's New Delhi trip. High-level negotiations are presently ongoing, to reach a consensus on the technologies to be transferred.

Both sides recently agreed to remove bureaucratic hurdles that had prevented activating the DTTI agreed to in 2012, by appointing one official from either side to monitor and untangle it: Frank Kendall, under secretary for acquisition, technology and licensing from the US and G Mohan Kumar, India's secretary of defence production.

Official sources said the transfers of technology nearing closure include those to build the RQ 11 unmanned aerial vehicle with a 10 km range and the roll-on-roll-off intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance module for the 11 C-130J-30 military transport that India has acquired.

Other technologies on offer from the US include those for air defence and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and for advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch systems for carrier-based fighters.

The Indian Navy can incorporate the latter capability aboard the second aircraft carrier it plans on building after the INS Vikrant, presently being constructed by the Cochin Shipyard Limited and scheduled for commissioning by 2018.

The know how to design and build varied UAVs, ground emplacement mine-scattering systems, Big Data cyber systems, warship guns and assorted military helicopters, too are on offer to Delhi.

And, late last year the US government approved the transfer of BAE Systems M777 155mm/39 calibre light weight howitzers’ entire assembly line from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to India.

If eventually agreed, India would become the global assembly, integration and test centre for the M777 howitzer, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policy of sourcing material indigenously.

India, which imports around 70 per cent of its military equipment, aims to reduce this dependency by concentrating on local weapons development.

BAE Systems officials confirmed that with US government concurrence already secured, they could well transfer the M777 AIT facilities to a joint venture with an Indian partner to meet the Indian Army's long-pending requirement for 145 howitzers.

They estimate that these numbers could increase to over 450 guns, as the M777 has been projected to equip the 17 Mountain Strike Corps, currently under raising for deployment along the disputed Chinese border in India's northeast.

"Defence collaboration with the US is a positive development, as India desperately requires an infusion of military technology," defence analyst Lieutenant General Vijay Kapoor (retired) said.

"India needs to develop its defence industrial base as it seeks to modernise its military, that faces collective obsolescence of its predominantly Soviet and Russian equipment," he added.

But to avail fully of these technologies India will need to agree to sign several protocols it has doggedly been opposing for years, on the grounds that they were intrusive and infringed upon its sovereignty.

These include the Logistics Support Agreement -- otherwise known as the Access and Cross-Servicing Agreement -- the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation.

Whilst the LSA permits the reciprocal use of maintenance, servicing, communications, refueling and medical care facilities to the two militaries, the other two covenants are essential for the transfer of secure and encrypted communication systems aboard US military platforms.

These include transport and maritime surveillance aircraft that India has procured already -- and aims to acquire more -- and assorted helicopters which it aims to acquire.

For long India has believed that the LSA compromises its strategic autonomy as it could drag Delhi into possible US conflicts in Asia and the Middle East, and that CISMOA and BECA could imperil its operational autonomy, whilst employing US equipment.

Analysts believe that increased warmth between the Modi and Obama administrations could help overcome past suspicions and smoothen military ties.

"These Cold War mindsets with regard to dealing with Washington need to be discarded," Brigadier Arun Sahgal (retired) of the Forum for Strategic Initiative in New Delhi said. "It is a flatter and more unipolar world today, and strategically India needs to be a part of it," he added.

Over the past three years, between 2011 and 2014, the US surpassed Russia as the largest supplier of military equipment to India as an indicator that the both sides were overcoming their mutual suspicions.

It has sold India $10 billion worth of military gear, mostly via the Foreign Military Sales route that is a government-to-government transaction overseen by the Defence Secuirty Cooperation Agency in Washington, DC.

Indian military imports since 2001 include 12 Thales-Raytheon Systems Firefinder artillery locating radar and six Lockheed-Martin ‘Super Hercules C-130J-30 and 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft. India aims on acquiring six additional C-130J-30s and an equal number of C-17s before Boeing shuts down their production facility in California in 2015-2016.

The Indian Navy has procured eight P-8I Neptune long range maritime patrol aircraft and is expected to acquire four more. India is also on the verge of finalising deals estimated at over $2.5 billion for 22 Boeing AH-64E Longbow Apache attack helicopters and 15 Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.

Repeat orders for both helicopters are expected, especially for Apaches for the Army Aviation Corps that was given ownership of these platforms in late 2012 following a protracted struggle with the Indian Air Force.

Last August the ministry of defence approved the mandatory offset proposals for these two US helicopter acquisitions. Both platforms now await clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Modi before the deals are inked.

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Image: Sailors on the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey stand in ranks as Indian Navy Ship Ranvijay pulls alongside during the Malabar 2012 Indo-US military exercise. Photograph courtesy: US Navy

Rahul Bedi, for Rediff.com
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