Indo-US jet trainer: the Indus moment - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 27 June 2011

Indo-US jet trainer: the Indus moment

While the F-35 JSF (right) seems unlikely to make it to India's shopping list, a joint US-India project to develop a new-gen trainer to replace the outdated T-38 (below) would greatly boost US-India defence ties

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th June 11

The inherent buoyancy of the US-India relationship has again become evident from the US Congress’ recent attempt to jump-start flagging defence ties. Concerned over the drift, the pivotal Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has asked the Pentagon to submit by November 1, 2011, a detailed assessment of the current state of US-India security co-operation; and a five-year plan for enhancing that. Noteworthy in itself is the bipartisan belief within the Committee that “it is in the national interest of the US, through military-to-military relations, arms sales, bilateral and multilateral joint exercises, and other means, to support India’s rise and build a strategic and military culture of cooperation and interoperability between our two countries, in particular with regard to the Indo-Pacific region”. But far more substantive is the SASC’s call on the Pentagon for “a detailed assessment of the desirability and feasibility… [of] a potential US partnership with India to co-develop one or more military weapon systems, including but not limited to the anticipated program to replace the US Air Force T-38 trainer jet”.
This is the first time that the US Congress has officially demanded a report from the Pentagon on the US-India security relationship. It raises the possibility that Congress might end up discussing the trickiest issues that dog US-India defence cooperation: viz. India’s wish for jointly developing military equipment rather than buying over-the-counter from the US; the tough US export control laws that stand in the way of joint development; and the building of trust through successful development programmes for high-technology platforms like the proposed trainer jet, which can only be named the Indus (given the rivers tradition set by the Indo-Russian cruise missile, the Brahmos, an amalgam of the Brahmaputra and the Moskva).

Both New Delhi and Washington understand that, given America’s technology safeguard regimes, joint development programmes can encompass high-technology equipment but not cutting-edge technology. The limits to what the US is prepared to pass on to India were signalled when Washington held back Boeing and Lockheed Martin from a contract floated by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) – the Indian developers of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft – for a development consultancy. That caused bad blood between the two countries and ADA eventually brought in European aerospace corporation, EADS, as consultants. Given that history, the proposal for a trainer aircraft as a joint US-India development project is a sensible one. A trainer is a high-technology platform, but it does not incorporate the cutting-edge aerospace technologies that set red lights flashing over a fighter development project.

Why then should India work with the US when Russia is willing to partner India in jointly developing a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), which incorporates not just cutting-edge but even bleeding-edge technologies? The fact, which top officials in the ministry of defence (MoD) ruefully admit in private, is that Russia will not pass on any key technologies to India. Sukhoi, the Russian partner in the FGFA project, has already developed the single-seat flying prototype that Moscow says meets the demands of the Russian Air Force. The work that remains mainly involves avionics and electronics systems and will fall largely into India’s share. The best that the Indian partner, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, can hope to gain from this “joint development” is a level of expertise in project management.

Besides, the US is bound to gradually change its go-it-alone attitude towards developing weaponry. Facing an economic slowdown and expectations of a post-Afghanistan peace dividend, even the mightiest defence spender in the history of mankind will be required to share costs wherever possible. While US aerospace corporations could theoretically pick from a range of partners, working with India provides an assured market that is the largest outside China.

A US-India basic trainer would replace some 450 T-38s currently flying in the US Air Force. Add to that an assured market of at least 200 trainer aircraft in India and there is an excellent business case for partnering India in developing the T-38’s successor.

The SASC has hit a home run with its proposal, even though the US administration has not yet signalled any acceptance of joint development. Over the preceding years, Washington has wasted much political effort in fruitlessly persuading India to sign the three agreements that the US considers essential for enhanced defence cooperation: a Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement; a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation; and a Logistics Support Agreement. Though not needed immediately, all may eventually come about once Indian mistrust dissipates. The perception of drift was also enhanced by the Antony MoD’s way of doing business: entirely ignore contentious issues, effectively pretending that they do not exist. Finally, New Delhi appeared to have hit the US exactly where it hurts – i.e. in the pocketbook – by the unceremonious ejection of Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the $11 billion competition to sell India 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft.

All this had seemingly set back the relationship. Mid-ranking US bureaucrats were suggesting that India-related proposals would now be given far less attention. Visiting US officials were complaining about a “hesitation within the Indian MoD (Ministry of Defence) about working too closely with the US”. Washington’s apparent reneging on the terms of the US-India agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, by changing the rules on enrichment and reprocessing technology, has further dampened the mood. It is time for a game-changing initiative and Washington has been presented with the idea and the opportunity for a meaty joint development programme that, especially from India’s perspective, would add real meaning to the relationship.


  1. Indo-US jet trainer .. Huh ! Amazing article !!

  2. Err. A minor kerfluffle only, shouldn't bother you much, but the US already has a "joint venture" AJT with another country and the US Aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin has substantial interest in (though it is bandied about as "indigenous Korean"!!, maybe Desi Media hack should get lessons in definitions of indigenous or otherwise from the Koreans!).

    Now why on earth would the US get into a deal with India to develop a very similar AJT again from scratch and at considerable expense? They have already produced the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle specifically for this purpose. Lockheed Martin will build that in the US for any US AJT requirement!

  3. Sorry broadsword, your trainer story is really an eyewash. The real issue is we all thought they were serious with that 123 agreement or whatever. But it only seems to be a back door way of tying India up and keeping her down.

    India still has a few options
    1]. offer the US and its allies a choice to remove India from these new safeguards or go full speed on those thorium based fast breeder reactors.
    2]. This is less specific but invest in cleaner coal technology and renewable energy. If the germans are serious about this[renewables] then there probably is something in it.

    India better learn from China, there is no free lunch, and respect will come only with hard work 'FOLLOWED BY RESULTS'.

  4. On a very serious note, this has to stop now. Mr. Shukla, with each coming week you are coming up with insanely ridiculous ideas. Henceforth I am not going to bother to your posts anymore. Thank you for all the entertaintment you have provided. There are better, more serious and well-informed military blogs elsewhere. I recommend the same to others as well.

  5. The time when USA should have invaded Pakistan, it instead chose to attack the Iraq. Things had to be going wayward since then. Otherwise by now India and US would have been great friends in all the fields.

    Till Pakistan is alive and kicking, any abnormal steps with regards to the Indo-Pacific region will be mired with dangerous consequences and may become a bias for a two pronged strategy or attacks against India.

    So Pakistan needs to be dissolved before India and US can march ahead for some grand business strategy.

  6. The US is broke. Why would they spend any money to develop a new trainer? What need is not met by the current crop of available trainers, one of which (as another poster mentions) is associated with the US` prime fighter contractor, Lockheed? What need is not being met that India would need/want to invest in developing a new trainer? For either side, the current crop of AJTs offer great capability and between them all much competition should net a good price, and local licenced production should be more than workable. Why divert development resources into something like this? Doesn`t India have a bunch of aerospace programs just down the road? Why not apply the same effort in upgrading Tejas to Mk.3? Or pursuing further indigenous engine design and manufacture capability? This is just `feel good` BS meant to waste money, filling well connected corporations and individual`s pocket`s for some sort of `PR` to show India is strongly connected to the `strongest global super-power` (incidentally broke, and in global strategic decline)

  7. Why would... any one want a Star to be dead... Only the Star's competitor/ aspirant Star want so... if you still don't get it... then you are one among the camp... which want the Star(Sitara)... to be dead...

  8. @ Anonymous 20:52

    Goodbye forever! Life just won't be the same without you

  9. Ajai sir

    I fully agree with @ Anonymous 16:05, its wishful thinking that US would ever want to co-develop a military system with India.

    The brouhaha about SASC is actually about the feeling of humiliation they get from the rightful rejection of their flying systems.

    SASC instead must try to find ways to bypass CISMOA, BECA and LSA to enhance defense cooperation with India, because as long as the US insists on these they will be hit by Indian stonewall.

    They need to know that defense industry is the biggest employer in US and to keep running factories they need orders and India will order only when they get things as per their terms. Under-performing C-130Js and C17s is enough but no more.

    As for India its time we take the US to task for shifting the goal post in nuclear energy sector vis-a-vis enrichment technology.

    As for Russia, its about time we arm twist them and make them understand we are still their biggest customers and we cant be taken for granted anymore.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  10. Mr Shukla, You are really insanely optimistic about ties with US.

    Instead, you should write about indigenization of defence projects which was your forte...

  11. Shuklaji...
    How are you so confident that such deal with happen that too with US without any hurdle?.. US never transfer good thing with us without any hurdle.. your article itself mentioned lots of points.. In addition to it.. US made a U-turn in N-Deal..
    US is a good country until we bend for them... the mood in US is changing about India.. so lets come out of mirage

  12. Dear Ajay Sir,
    LCA Tejas is an evolutionary technology platform rather being a simple aircraft off the shelf. Its further growth to M-Combat Aircraft will certainly be boosted by the Indo-US joint venture trainer program. Since last 4 decades we have accessed only russian tech, and have missed many reliable technologies from US. Now our indigenous aerospace production must ensure US techs as benchmark. The offshoots of F35 shall come into LCA / MCA from one or other projects.

  13. Ajay,
    There is absolutely no harm is espousing well known interests in spite of well known backgrounds and history.

    Do carry out National Intersts audits on India Vs USA Vs China and then express your opinion and conclusions. In this Matrix Pakistan is No where.

    Do you have any reason for USA being the biggest technology inhibitor for India? Whereas Russia < EU and France are ready to sell for a price, why is USA such a difficult customer. What has India done to threaten US interests.

    Answer one question. If USA is right in following their National Interests, should not India be allowed the same right?

    Or shall we develop a relationship with USA that existed beween UK and India before 1947 !!

    Are we prepared to invite another 1962 and a repeat of Mother Russsia and Father USA abondoning the new born babay to be mauled by the Dragon.. So called multiculturalism and Non Alignment of Nehru was burried long time back by those we wish to to call Father and Mother. Let us look for solutions outside the existing framework.. NO...

    India did learn her bitter lesson from betrayal by USA, China and USA. Now, it is for those who diched her, to prove their intentions and sincerety in deeds and not in words. UK being in forefront. Eurofighter needs to be rejected on that same consideration.

    Does that satisfy your recent US fetish ?? We know that now you are in the journalist word which earns from Projection and Projection !!

  14. Well written article Ajai sir. Whether F-16 or F-18 US is never a trusted partner. They will immediately change their position. Denial of Tejas flight testing consultancy is a big example what they think. We better stick to Russia and Europe.

  15. @ Ajai Shukla

    T-38 : Who loses ?

    Mr. Shukla , the T-6 Texan is the basic trainer of the USAF while T-38 is the advanced trainer.

    Unlike India , most of the airforces in the world have just a basic trainer and an advanced trainer.

    So the replacement for the T-38 will be a direct competitor to the BAE Hawk.

    How can India afford 200 advanced trainers when it only recently bought 100 odd Hawks ? Doesnt this leave the IAF saddled with multiple airframes for the single role of advanced trainer.

    Unlike some other posters, I dont see this T-38 replacement as a competitor to IJT Sitara.

  16. no need to invest money in developing trainer india should invest in developing FGFA aircraft with russians who are our best friends rather than trust USA who are supporting over arch rivals pakis by providing them f16 p8 orion and others so sensible prevails we build good economy followed with best airforce with su30mki as the backbone followed by FGFA

    chetan bhuvad [india]

  17. US is not trustworthy. They will go in favor of pakistan in the middle of war or stop supply of crucial weapons.

  18. All this is so embarrassing really :( --- India has probably the most numbers of skilled manpower in the entire planet, specially good at engineering and research! And here we have to somehow expect, literally beg the US to come help us develop a jet trainer.
    Why cant just we unleash our peoples power on our defense/aviation projects, sort of like with the IT sector, with less regulation and more private hands.
    I beleive there are plenty of Howard hughes in our population to show how its done. The irony is most visible from outside the country and the western powers are amazed that India so easily flubs the obvious stuff.
    This basically is a reflection of lack of self-confidence in our selves, need to change that!

  19. China-pak alliance is still stronger then any indian alliance can be. India tries to be seen as local worldpower but is just a minor military player. It has two danerous borders which will cooperate together in the next war. Whatever it buys, whatever it assembles, it will never achieve domination. And we know it likes israel, europe, usa for getting weapons but the fact is simple. These economies are what the russian economy was a few years ago. They die for selling and India can afford it. But let us not make India a ame changer. Let me put it simle. If you read one of the best indian military forums then you will notice degrading of opponents. I'am not surprised cause they have nothing else to contribute.

  20. I fail to understand the vitriol being dished out against this view. First of all, this is a blog - the whole purpose of a blog being its an individual's views, unedited. A blog should not be considered a measure of journalistic credibility. You may not agree with Broadsword's views but what the heck! Secondly as the world order changes and US power diminishes and China rises, all kinds of geopolitical calculations are going to change. India is no longer a "Russia only" military goods customer and US-India relations have been on an upswing gradually. By obstinately sticking to the view that "US is unreliable and pro Pak" India will not do itself any favors. Realpolitik has always been India's weakness. We always have a little too much idealism baked into our foreign policy calculations. Its not necessarily a bad trait for a human being (retaining idealism in thought) but we've clearly always been not too sharp foreign policy wise. The US too will rethink and realign its own policy as time goes by and adjusting to the new reality of not being as powerful of a Numero Uno as it has been in the past is not going to be easy for the US. At the end of the day, if you look ahead to the future power centers in the world, who do you think India should favor more - US or China? Its not wise to completely blow away a thought like this. It may be a dream at this point but what's so wrong in thinking about a possible joint weapon platform development?

  21. Friends, its important to build military and strategic ties based on our enlightened self interests with the US. If we take a robust approach to our own interests then we never need fear a relationship with the US and a strong relationsip (with our eyes firmly on our interests) with them can only be useful.

    Look at Israel for example. I dont know how may of you saw the public spat between Obama and Nethanyahu over Palestine a few weeks ago. Nethanyahu responded with an impassioned and robust reply to Obama in front of TV cameras and followed that up a few days later with a direct address to Congress. That helped Israels case a lot and will ensure that Congress keeps Obama honest on Palestine.

    We must engage with the US (always prepared to follow our interests boldly) and build multiple channels of communication within the US establishment. If things are not going well with a particular administration then lets try to influence congress and public opinion directly.

    Which is why I am encouraged by the Congress showing some interest in a relationship with India.

    Also may I say that I do not agree with some of what Broadsword has said recently and have said so in comments but a lot of very good work has been done as well. Please do'nt question Ajai's integrity.

  22. @ anon 3rd july 4:32
    Simple rebuttual would be to call you a pathetic pakistani and call it quits..but lets be you think the economies of the western world are all at same spot as soviet union was 2 decades ago and would collapse given enough time leaving dear china and pakistan unscathed and glowing..well bite me..noone in the history of follies could be more wrong buddy..saying the most technologically advanced economies are today integrated with back offices and manufacturing centres what india and china today are which does not include pakistan..if anything goes wrong the whole thing comes down make no mistake..and there is a limit to which china and pakistan can go for a honeymoon..pakistan has little to offer than being a deterrent to erratically yet rising india..sometime in the future china's gonna dump in point the recent gwadar embarrassment pakistan caused again.. bahhhh..

  23. This is the first time that the US Congress has officially demanded a report from the Pentagon on the US-India security relationship.

  24. The T-1A Jayhawk is a medium-range, twin-engine jet trainer. It is used by the US Air Force's Air Education and Training Command to train student pilots to fly airlift or tanker aircraft.

  25. Jet trainers are often adapted to other purposes, and many dedicated jet trainers are designed with non-training features from the design stage.

  26. "which can only be named the Indus". why in lord's name ??? why not kaveri? narmada? Mississippi ?. what are you smoking buddy


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