Yokel at a country fair - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Monday 19 January 2015

Yokel at a country fair

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Jan 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold custodianship of the US-India relationship will bring President Barack Obama to India next week for his second visit, which promises to be as rich in symbolism as Modi’s star turn at the Madison Square Garden last September. With Washington and New Delhi already engaged in multiple fields, there is expectation that the US-India defence relationship will drive the defining strategic convergence of the early 21st century. Yet, for this to happen both must focus less on cheesy platitudes --- liberal democracies, freedom-loving people, etc. --- and give sober thought to how they can reconcile entirely different styles of thinking, planning and executing national defence.

Washington’s geopolitical vision --- as articulated in its “Rebalance to Asia” policy --- perceives an emerging bipolar power contest between the US and China, with India being the crucial swing player. The US-India security relationship aims at building up India as a power that punches above its weight. The assumption underlying American support is that New Delhi will inevitably come down on the US side because of its geopolitical circumstances and its civilizational nature. American realist thinker, Ashley Tellis, argues: “The real gains in the US-Indian partnership will be manifest only over the long haul and will be realised less by what India does for the United States than by what it becomes and does for itself.”

Meanwhile, New Delhi inhabits a parallel reality, where it invokes a multilateral, consensual, UN-oriented approach to dealing with the region and the world. New Delhi’s reluctance to antagonise Beijing provides little traction to the narrative of a countervailing partnership. Howsoever strategic the vision of US leaders, its military and the Department of Defense (the Pentagon) remain important players in decisions on sharing weapons and technologies. For them, the crucial question remains: “are the Indians going to fight alongside us?” 

While a formal alliance is neither conceivable nor desirable, with its commitment to fight together, New Delhi has not seriously tried to understand the inter-agency framework that controls US high technology and the release of weapon systems even to friendly countries. If India wants co-development and co-manufacture, it must understand --- given America’s strategic view of defence technology --- how this is inseparably linked with arms control issues, licensing, technology control and cyber-security.

Without that understanding India will remain a mere buyer of American weaponry, with $9 billion worth of US arms bought in the last decade and another $7 billion worth in the procurement pipeline. Despite all the lip service that New Delhi has paid to the notion of co-manufacture and co-development, not even a single joint development project has kicked off so far.

To smoothen cooperation, the Pentagon and our defence ministry (MoD) agreed in 2012 to establish the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), a high-level, inter-agency body that would ensure that bureaucratic red tape did not trip up the broader strategic relationship, and that India-related proposals did not lose traction or momentum as they filtered through tendentious bureaucracies. It was co-chaired by US Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, an out-and-out Indophile, and by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. Since the defence minister of that time, AK Antony, wanted to have as little as possible to do with America, India’s NSA --- with scant experience of defence production and technology --- had to co-chair the DTTI.

The resulting confusion in New Delhi has occasioned grim humour in Washington. After the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) strongly advocated a joint US-India project to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system --- a defence against incoming ballistic missiles --- Carter broached the proposal directly with Menon. To Carter’s surprise, Menon turned it down flat, apparently unaware of the DRDO’s interest.

A similar lack of coordination was evident during Mr Modi’s visit to Washington last year, when an American official raised the possibility of US technology assistance in building India’s next aircraft carrier --- something that the Indian Navy wants. For India, technology assistance from the world’s undisputed aircraft carrier experts can only be welcome. Yet, NSA Ajit Doval --- whose grasp of military technology is minimal --- blandly turned down US assistance.

Even today, the Pentagon worries that the Indian co-chairperson --- secretary for defence production, G Mohan Kumar --- is not influential enough for the job. He is technically the same grade as his US counterpart, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Licensing, Frank Kendall. Yet the sorry truth is that Indian bureaucrats --- with little specialist knowledge --- are far behind their US counterparts in technical knowledge and in their level of empowerment.

Consequently, there is scepticism on the US side about the joint development proposals that India recently raised in the DTTI. In 2013, Carter had proposed five co-development projects, which involved US and Indian entities working together to produce the next generation of US arms like the Javelin anti-tank missile. During Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to India last year, the US raised another dozen co-development proposals. Now, without responding to those proposals, India has proposed six projects of its own.

Given the mixed messages that have emanated from New Delhi in the past, there is understandable scepticism amongst American interlocuters about whether the six new proposals have been adequately thought out, or whether they even have broad acceptability across the Indian government. Asks one US interlocutor, “Have the highest levels in New Delhi identified the six proposals as clear strategic requirements and national defence priorities? Or have they been merely put forward as bargaining tools, with some official saying, “Present them and let’s see what the Americans say”.

It is time for South Block to stop behaving like a yokel at a country fair, unable to participate for fear of being pickpocketed. Indian officials must move forward confidently, understanding US export control and procurement frameworks and using bodies like the DTTI to obtain what India needs. With Ashton Carter heading the Pentagon and with a confident government in New Delhi, there has never been a better time. Identify India’s requirements clearly and put them on the table. Then the ball will be in the US court.


  1. UPA did a big mistake by not making Col Shukla, NSA chief or even Defence minister..Mr Knowall Shukla can fix everything with magic wand.. Your articles are slowly turning out to be Congress press briefing..

  2. There is no question of 'co-developing' (you pay and operate we own decide when, how, and if use) anything with the US that is strategic in nature ABM and aircraft carrier included. They wont give us something as tactical as the Javelin ATM system yet want to be a stakeholder in strategic assets. The US will essentially own it operationally setting terms of use. There goes the military component to our foreign policy. Also, i am sorry to say this spies and US assets in the most strategic parts of our military. ... and what the heck was that about Doval being technologically uninformed. Have you met him ??? you have no idea what you are talking about or have an agenda. The US is NOT the enemy but be very very careful of their friendship in defence.

  3. sir there should be some good the m.o.d is done please write an article on that also, it can't be all bad, and they say ajith doval is very well informed person and knows his job.

  4. wow. I had anticipated you to be more of a journalist. The article clearly looks like it was paid for by US state department. Did you even think of any reasons why Indian MOD might have decided against teaming up with US projects that US proposed? Did you bother to talk to anyone in MOD to figure out why they said no? A journalist would have done his/her homework before writing a terrible article like this. This reads more like an Advertisement from US DOD. Well, it very well can be since Indian MSMs can be easily bought.

    I am an avid reader of your blog but I am greatly disappointed in you.

  5. Sir please give us a list of all the 12 codevelopment proposals from USA and the 6 proposals from India. It will help us to understand the situation better. If USA is ready to share its technology with India than we could proceed with all the big deals. Also we don't need any more TOT for missle and tank development. So codeveloping Javelin missile is not that useful according to me. Aircraft or aircraft carrier engine development, aircraft development , stealth, radar, nuclear, data fusion, enemy detection, these are some areas we should concentrate for codevelopment. USA has very strong knowledge on all these places, will they transfer something to us? As you said if they are ready to assist us in aircraft carried development than we can definitely accept it.

  6. Anon @ 20 January 2015 at 11:04

    Very true , has always admired ajais blogs but more recently I too can smell what you say.

    1 ) Oppose coast guard and def min on pak terror boat sinking
    2 ) Oppose def min for every silly reason and spread malice.
    3 ) oppose def min in drdo chief's contract termination.
    what is weird is ajai wants drdo chief should have been warned before terminating his contract.
    Yes true indian govt will now inform and invite ajai to cabinet meetings, meetings with service chiefs, raw officials etc.
    For ajai is the only patriot and rest all are traitors.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last