Stop the dithering with Washington - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 9 June 2015

Stop the dithering with Washington

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th June 15

On June 2, Ashton Carter became the first visiting American defence secretary to be hosted in an operational Indian military command, when he visited Eastern Naval Command headquarters at Visakhapatnam. Carter was taken aboard a frontline Indian Navy warship and briefed by the admiral in charge. What is remarkable is not that this happened, but that it has taken so long.

When Chinese troops were racing through Arunachal Pradesh towards the Brahmaputra valley in 1962, and Jawaharlal Nehru feared for the future of Assam, Washington was the first number he dialled. The US responded in hours, flying in weapons and equipment in an overt expression of support that was one reason why Beijing vacated captured Indian territory before winter closed the Himalayan passes. Several US thinkers who believe India would turn to it again in any serious conflict with China, find New Delhi’s standoffishness inexplicable. They can understand why India remained aloof through its long embrace of the Soviet Union; through America’s opportunistic patronage of Pakistan; even through the years of technology sanctions after India’s 1998 nuclear tests. But now after the US-India civil nuclear agreement; Washington’s readiness to share with India defence high-technology that countries like Pakistan would never be given; and America’s “rebalance to Asia” that aligns both countries’ maritime interests, US policymakers and diplomats remain perplexed at New Delhi’s willingness to proceed to cautiously in forging ties of military cooperation.

There was nothing lacking in protocol during Carter’s visit to Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval all met Carter. He held discussions with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and they signed a 10-year defence framework agreement that was falsely hyped as a breakthrough. “This is just one more of many signs of what a positive trajectory we continue to be on with the defense community here in India”, said Carter after his meetings.

Yet there was apparently little substantial outcome from the visit. The defence framework agreement remains undisclosed, unlike the 1995 and 2005 agreements that were public. MoD officials, speaking off-the-record, indicate it is --- like the preceding two framework agreements --- more an expression of common intent than a document that lists out actual cooperative measures.

The Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) too seems to be losing steam. Ashton Carter, in his earlier avatar as the Pentagon’s number two to Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, had personally promoted the DTTI as a high-level political body that would break down entrenched bureaucratic resistance in both capitals to increased cooperation. The DTTI was also intended to throw up “out-of-the-box” proposals for US and Indian laboratories and companies to collaborate in developing high technology products. This was intended to “transition from a buyer-seller relationship to one based on co-production and co-development”.

Unfortunately, both sides view the DTTI differently. The Pentagon regards it as a strategic forum, above and beyond regular bureaucratic channels, for discussing transformative ideas that cannot be processed in regular bureaucratic channels. India’s defence ministry, in contrast, regards the DTTI with suspicion, convincing itself that Washington is using this mechanism to bypass regular procurement channels, pushing in products by the back door. Defence ministry bureaucrats I have spoken to express bewilderment at the notion that there is a strategic dimension to choosing defence equipment. They believe equipment should be evaluated based on its performance in trial evaluations, rather than on the strategic relationship that comes with the equipment, or even on aspects that become clear only later, such as operational availability percentages or maintenance costs.

Given this worldview, the DTTI is becoming an arena for competition, not cooperation. Proposals mooted by the Pentagon are pooh-poohed in South Block as less than high-tech (and, truth be told, many of them are). Simultaneously, the Pentagon views New Delhi’s proposals as overly demanding. An example is India’s desire for hot engine technology, which US engine-makers say is hardly realistic given that this involves the fruit of billions of dollars and decades worth of fundamental research, design and development. Consequently, the DTTI is ending up validating both sides’ worst fears of each other. Furthermore, with the downgrading of the DTTI co-chairpersons --- from number two in the defence hierarchy to number three/four --- a body that was supposed to oversee and invigorate the defence bureaucracy has become bureaucratised itself.

The US-India defence relationship remains a sideshow and --- even as political, diplomatic, commercial and intelligence cooperation proceed with fewer hiccups --- the sporadic nature of defence cooperation hinders the natural development of a true strategic relationship. India’s political leadership must grasp that when the sole military superpower (and, despite China’s aspirations, the US will remain so for the foreseeable future) proposes cooperation in the Indo-Pacific theatre, it is not just Indian-style political and diplomatic rhetoric. There is also an implicit offer to cooperate in creating Indian hard power capabilities, which New Delhi must evaluate quickly and carefully. With the Indian Navy’s maritime doctrine placing central reliance on aircraft carrier-borne air power, and introducing two near carriers in the immediate future, there should be no hesitation in drawing on the expertise of the world’s pre-eminent aircraft carrier power.

While China has no carriers to speak of (the Liaoning is not a serious vessel), the US Navy operates ten nuclear-powered carriers of the Nimitz class. The first supercarrier of a sophisticated, follow-on class, USS Gerald R Ford, is nearing completion and Washington has completed contracting for its next carrier, USS John F Kennedy, which should join service by 2020. Following that will come USS Enterprise, incidentally the 3rd American aircraft carrier bearing that name. All three incorporate the new “electromagnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS), which replaces the older steam catapult with an electric motor. EMALS launches fighters and larger airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft without the wear and tear caused by steam catapults, greatly enhancing a carrier’s domination over a wide area. The large electric power requirement of EMALS logically dictates a nuclear-propelled vessel. The navy must choose between a conventionally powered carrier with less endurance and air power, and a nuclear-powered vessel, featuring EMALS, which could exercise sea control for decades to come.

The latter presents significant technology challenges, but Washington can be pressed to assist India in developing a nuclear reactor for aircraft carriers. This would mean a reactor more powerful and effective than what India has built for its nuclear submarine, INS Arihant. While the DTTI already has a US-India “working group” exploring cooperation in aircraft carrier technology, assistance in developing nuclear propulsion would require an Indian political-military request at the highest level, i.e. from the Indian prime minister to the US president. That request must be made, in consultation with the navy. Second, the US must be convinced that New Delhi will abandon its pathological fence sitting and assert itself as an aircraft carrier navy in the Indian Ocean and, if push comes to shove, in the Western Pacific. During Obama’s visit to India in January, a “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” committed India to partnering the US in “safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.” But there is still little conviction in Washington that New Delhi is willing to lock eyes with Beijing.


  1. "But now after the US-India civil nuclear agreement;...".

    How good is an agreement signed in 2005 that has India still struggling to get acceptance from the 'nuclear suppliers group' and the 'Australia group' among others, and we are now in 2015.

    You mentioned Pakistan could only dream of getting some of the weapons offered. However, they have the f16 and may be getting the block52 pretty soon. They also have the Apache(older version no doubt). Although right now EMALS might not be on their mind given their morbid economic situation and their phantom navy, save a few decent subs :).

    So there must be something both Indian governments(past & present) are aware of that results in them feeling that there is no need to rush into uncle Sam's 'come to papa' embrace. Although to some extent they do want to get cosier. But by how much, this is the question that needs an answer.

  2. If India refuses to sign simple agreements like CISMOA, BECA and LSA how can they trust us with transferring advanced technologies and know how? India's interests are compromised by super corrupt vote bank seeking pseudo socialist politicians.
    There is a very close link between defense and economy. USA is the sole superpower and is the force behind several Asian countries, including China progressing from 3rd world to 1st world. Whatever India has achieved is solely due to the inherent talent of the people of this huge country. The politicians have always been a hurdle to India achieving its real potential.
    Modi to payback Israel for supporting him, scuttled the lucrative Javelin deal in favor of a much inferior Spike anti tank missile, which as per recent reports has run into rough weather.
    If India has to progress both militarily and economically, it has to forge closer ties with USA. USA will part with high technology only if we become a part of their overall security apparatus. If we take the burden of patrolling the Indian Ocean on behalf of the democratic world and share crucial intel with USA, that may eventually lead to USA helping us with nuclear reactors for ships and subs.

  3. You want an equal relationship with America or a lap-dance in the American club? Want to imitate Tony Blair's poodle manners with US ? Wanna be treated like a great power ?? Then, start behaving like one.

    Have you read the text of CISMOA and BECA ? Why pay so much when all Americans are doing is leasing their weapons on annual contract, enforced by annual inspections?? Of all people, you definitely know, how many items were replaced from INS Jalashwa to make it less prone to inspections.

    Don't make it look like a simplistic issue. India will treat Indo-US relations on its merit and not on any emotional or moral notion. It is buying support platforms as much as possible but India will not compromise on its operational sovereignty. The biggest problem of Indian policy makers and opinion builders - like you, is your emotional treatment of geo-strategic issues.Cut down on emotions, please.

  4. Strange why such exceptional batting for USA??

  5. Pls write your next article on Myanmar raid by our paratroopers....lspk

  6. After reading the comments, it shows that the majority of Indians are still living in cold war capitalist vs communist era. It's a very different world today. Without Uncle Sam's blessings no country could've reached where they are today, be it Japan, Germany, S.Korea or China. It's time that we come to terms with the reality and did things which are in our interests. Hanging on to a self defeating socialist mindset which congress is hamstrung with, won't help India and Indians.

  7. Captain Sanat Bhate10 June 2015 at 06:32

    Our early leadership from sixties missed the boat and failed to reach border adjustment with Chinese leaders with all the practicalities thrown to winds. 'K' issue was another outcome of their policies.
    Their only wise move has been to stay neutral in ever shifting sands of international power games. Now at this stage to forego the advantage for some 'military gadgets' would be a folley. We do not want to join any formal groups against China.
    Develop our economy and infrastructure assiduously and earn money the way China has done. We can thereafter access the technology too.
    Worst would be to be the fodder for some one else's guns.

  8. What do you mean by saying that the Liaoning is not a "serious vessel"? It is certainly a more capable carrier than the Vikramaditya. Does this mean that the Vikramaditya is even less "serious" a vessel than Liaoning? This is strange coming from you Sir.

  9. 'Dithering'... you say? Wonder what you have to say for what happened in Myanmar? You were hyper critical of the government and Parrikar when he sacked A Chander(Proof from 20 Jan 2015:, but made a complete U-turn on the matter in less than 6 months time. (Proof: @ajaishukla May 29 Boost to indigenous defence with appt of new DRDO chief and 1st-ever full-time Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister).

    Don't you think it’s a habit for you to jump the gun, Mr.Shukla?
    Another case in point of you jumping the gun here, before you accuse me of unreliably accusing you.

    Btw why have you not followed up on the IJT story? Is it because it’s not convenient for you? or is it that you've always been whimsical? You recently posted an article about HAL working to weaponize the Hawk AJT, but you forgot to check the status of IJT with HAL? Strange!

    You Ajai Ji/Ajai sir/Ajai bhai/Ajai Shukla are an underdog, ask yourself what psychological wound are you nursing by trying to be an anti-establishment rebellious underdog, and a whimsical one at that, all the time?

    It is time let go of the thinking that you are the best.

    ‘You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’

  10. @ Anonymous 03:54

    Your incoherent and verbose comment does not merit a reaction. However, I have posted it as an example of the incoherent reasoning of those who would seek to defend the indefensible.

    I suggest you waste no more of your time getting "fooled" by me. Waste no time reading my blog. Waste no more time responding to what I write. Just go your way and I will go mine.

    Goodbye (I hope)

  11. NSR says ---

    Nope...USA can not share nuclear nuclear reactor technology as it is a closely guarded and secretive technology...It does not share it even with its best friends...

    USA may share EMALS and other things...
    But signing of foundational agreements with some override clauses may hasten the transfer of technology and Make in India...
    It will definitely help in securing F-414 engine technology...Subassembly so so...

    India must examine these agreements for once and for all the time and come to a proper conclusions...
    Remember 1962 and South China fast China built the island...
    China can come to Tawang and many other strategic places at a blinding speed...However, holding may be tough in the face of winter closure of passes...

    India must be pro-active for its security, manufacturing, and also technology acquisitions...
    So it always comes to the foundational agreements...without them India only gets stripped down P-8I, C-130J, C-17, helicopters, etc

  12. sore looser you are.

  13. please give updates on engine development for AMCA. what about KAVERI...?

    What may be the agenda during Parrikar's visit to US this december..?

    What will be the out come of Modi's visit to Russia this december..?


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