Senate pushes Pentagon on US-India defence ties - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 27 June 2011

Senate pushes Pentagon on US-India defence ties

The USAF Thunderbirds flying the T-38, a trainer used since the 1960s. Grounded in 2008 after two fatal crashes, the USAF is now considering a new trainer

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th June 11

The United States Congress has moved decisively to bridge a widening gulf between the defence establishments of India and America. In an unprecedented initiative, the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which oversees the US Department of Defense, has ordered the Pentagon to submit a report by November 1st, 2011 with a detailed assessment of the current state of US-India security cooperation; and a five-year plan for enhancing that cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.

The SASC has also ordered “a detailed assessment of the desirability and feasibility of the future sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to India, and a potential U.S. partnership with India to co-develop one or more military weapon systems, including but not limited to the anticipated program to replace the U.S. Air Force T-38 trainer jet.”

The Indian MoD has indicated its unwillingness to procure the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a futuristic, fifth-generation fighter aircraft that is at an advanced stage of development by US aerospace major, Lockheed Martin. The reason that New Delhi cites is an ongoing joint development programme with Russia to develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). But MoD sources indicate that there will be keen interest in New Delhi in any joint development programme with the US, especially in the realm of aerospace.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is grappling with a severe crisis in the availability of basic trainer aircraft for its cadets. The Indian MoD is evaluating bids in a global tender for buying basic trainers for the IAF. Meanwhile Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is launching an indigenous programme for developing and building a basic trainer that has been dubbed the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40).

With the Indian requirement estimated at about 200 trainers, joint development with the US would achieve a three-fold purpose: indigenously meeting the IAF requirement; leveraging the experience of the US aerospace industry to ensure that the HAL programme meets time and quality yardsticks; and, most attractive for New Delhi, establishing a framework for high-technology cooperation and joint development with the US.

The SASC initiative was piloted last week by two influential members --- Senator John Cornyn (Republican from Texas) and Joe Lieberman (Democrat from Connecticut) --- as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill (each allocation of the US defence budget is evaluated and passed by the SASC). The amendment notes, “It is in the national interest of the United States… 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.”

This new initiative from the US Congress illustrates how the US-India relationship is expanding from the strategic into the popular realm. The senators’ interest reflects pressure from electoral constituencies, especially the powerful American-Indian community, and from economic considerations like the jobs created by Indian military purchases.

Senior US officials privately contrast the flowering of the broad US-India strategic relationship with deepening scepticism about the defence relationship. Declaring flatly that there was “hesitation within the Indian MoD (Ministry of Defence) about working too closely with the US”, a top American official recently lamented that Washington’s outreach evokes little more than “wariness” from South Block. Meanwhile Indian officials complain that America is interested only in defence sales, talking partnership but implementing technology sanctions.

Henceforth, the flagging Pentagon-South Block relationship will not be left merely to bureaucrats, guided as they are by procedure and precedent rather than by an overarching vision. The efforts of the administration will now be watched over by the US Congress.

Says Manohar Thyagaraj, head of Paragon International, a strategic advisory firm that closely monitors the US-India security relationship, “This signifies that the Senate is willing to take a leadership role in discussing key elements of the US-India relationship. Key constituencies such as industry and the Indian-American community would likely welcome thought leadership by Congress, which can be useful at times of inertia in the Washington interagency process, especially in trenchant areas like technology transfer.”


  1. I have noted that, USA and other European nations allocate at a maximum a few hundred million dollars to a couple billion dollars towards their futuristic defense R&D projects. Once these R&D experiments fructify, they are productized and marketed for export to 3rd world nations such India, which due to its incompetent defense R&D is forced to pay tens of billions of dollars and beg for tech transfer for such research. Also worth noting is the way some of these projects are inspired, especially by DARPA, where competitions are held and prize money advertized to motivate private/university/industry participation. Indian defense R&D is filled with incompetent and super-bureaucratic "SOBs". If these establishments were to be privatized or managed by Armed forces directly, with a organization similar to DARPA, much of the incompetence atleast might reduce. Keeping things short, I would advice Indian leadership to bring Defense R&D under professional Armed forces purview and advice Armed forces to create DARPA and identify futuristic requirements for their defense needs atleast 50 years in advance, even if this means researching "Warp-drive" to "Terminator Cyborgs". Only allowing such imaginative creationism will bring Indian prowess to the fore, until then we will always be treated as 3rd world nation. Same thing in the Nuclear power generation R&D. What are our "so-called" scientists doing, busy applying for foreign visas??? Other aspect that irks me, is the lack of patriotic nation-building spirit among certain communities especially from southern states of India, from where I see a lot of manpower immigrate to foreign shores for better prospects. Even there most of them bring disrepute to the image of Indians. Especially since foreigners don't care if these SOBs are from particular part of India. Towards this end I advice Indian leadership to NOT put all technological infrastructure "eggs" in one basket "Southern India". But distribute them among all states.

  2. @Anonymous 09:35
    I agree with you in some points. Defense units are always set up in South India. Why ?
    Time for us to promote private players in defense.


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