India, US to set agenda for “major defence partnership” - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 25 June 2017

India, US to set agenda for “major defence partnership”

India wanted armed Predator drone (pictured), but US is offering unarmed Guardian maritime drone instead

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Jun 17

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets US President Donald Trump for the first time on Monday in Washington DC, healthy defence ties between the two countries are expected to buoy the discussions.

Key issues that will be discussed include: Operationalizing India’s unique status as a “major defence partner” of America; the proposed $2 billion sale of Guardian remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) to India; and negotiation of a security agreement that would allow the US to import sensitive communications equipment to India.

Officials on both sides are playing down expectations of concrete outcomes, given the unpredictability of Trump and Modi. “I don’t see their meeting as being driven by the need for ‘deliverables’. This will be the first time they sit down face-to-face, and they would do well to establish a personal bond that will help them work cooperatively.

As Business Standard reported on Saturday (“No F-16 deal during PM Modi's visit to US”) there would be no forward movement on the proposal from US aerospace major, Lockheed Martin, to build F-16 Block 70 fighter aircraft in India. Instead, as part of a multi-vendor procurement, India’s defence ministry will process the F-16 offer according to the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016.

Major defence partner

Last December, in the twilight of the Barack Obama administration, the US Congress passed an amendment titled, “Enhancing Defense and Security Cooperation with India”, to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA) – an annual bill that allocates funding to the US military.

The India amendment, which forms Section 1292 of the NDAA, designates India a “major defence partner” of the US, and requires US secretaries of defence and state to designate an official to manage Indo-US cooperation. All US administrations must appoint an official who will report 6-monthly to Congress on the defence relationship.

In April, US National Security Advisor, General HR McMaster, affirmed the new designation when he visited New Delhi. How Trump and Modi operationalize the “major defence partnership” will be carefully watched, as that would signal the real content of the relationship.

There is potential for conflict, given Trump concerns like jobs and visas. Yet, India’s need for defence modernisation could also create more jobs in America. For example, moving the F-16 integration line to India to build 100-200 fighters could allow US workers to continue making systems, avionics, engines and other parts in America.

Sale of Guardian drones

Washington and New Delhi are discussing the sale of 22 Guardian RPVs to India, which both sides could use to demonstrate the value of the partnership.

US officials point out that these RPVs are “Category 1” systems under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), for the export of which member countries must assume “presumption of denial”, except on pressing national security grounds.

“An offer of a ‘Category 1’ RPV –exported so far only to US allies engaged in combat operations of critical national security importance – would demonstrate that India is being provided unprecedented technology under ‘major defence partner’ status”, says Benjamin Schwartz of the US-India Business Council (USIBC).

The MTCR tightly controls Category 1 systems because of their ability to deliver nuclear weapons.

America has sold such RPVs to western allies, including France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK. However, India’s procurement of the Guardian would be the first sale of an RPV of this category outside the NATO framework.

The Guardian, built by General Atomics, is the naval version of the legendary Predator B armed drone (also termed the MQ-9 Reaper), with which the US has killed terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. India had asked for the armed Predator drone. However, Washington turned down that request and instead offered the unarmed Guardian, which performs maritime surveillance.

The Guardian, like the Reaper, cruises at 300 kilometres per hour at 50,000 feet, and flies 14-hour missions during which it can travel to and observe oceanic areas up to 1,800 kilometres from base. It is monitored and controlled remotely from a ground control room, which exchanges imagery in real time with the RPV, over a two-way data link.

Says a US official anonymously: “This offer represents an outstretched arm to India by its friends in Washington. If New Delhi were to reject this, it would severely weaken pro-India voices within the US government and do real damage to the defence relationship.”

The New York Times reports that India has asked the Pentagon for drone sales thrice in the past year. That led to pro-India senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner writing to urge Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to clear the sale, which “would advance U.S. national security interests and protect U.S. jobs.”


Since 2005, the US has urged India to sign an agreement called Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), which lays down stringent safeguards for sensitive radio equipment provided by America.

India’s refusal has caused its military to get key platforms like the C-130J transporter and the P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft with CISMOA-protected communications kit replaced by lower-grade, less secure, commercially-available equipment.

India objects to some safeguards, like inspections of CISMOA-protected equipment on Indian military bases. As negotiations have progressed, Washington has agreed to rename the agreement COMCASA --- or Communications Compatibility And Security Agreement --- to allow India a country-specific agreement, different from what the US Department of Defense (DoD, or Pentagon) has signed with dozens of other countries.

Pentagon sources say their draft of the COMCASA is now with New Delhi, but there is no telling when the defence ministry will act on it.

“During the trilateral US-India-Japan Malabar exercise in July, we have to come up with customised solutions for intercommunications. This happens also in disaster relief situations. After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Indian C-17 Globemaster III aircraft flying aid to Nepal could not communicate with US Air Force C-17s operating there because they had no CISMOA-protected radio sets.

Neither side is holding its breath on CISMOA/COMCASA. Modi and Trump could agree on the need to expedite negotiations, but an actual agreement is unlikely. 


  1. When I hear Indian leaders telling our people that so and so foreign power has been persuaded by us to sell us their best technology, I am reminded of Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric telling Indian PM to improve infrastructure,’ he said, and added touchingly, ‘Don’t do it for GE’s sake, do it for yourselves.’ He went on to say that privatizing the power sector was the only way to bring India’s one billion people into the digital network. ‘You can talk about information and intellectual capital, but without the power to drive it, you will miss the next revolution.’ ----------------What he meant, of course, was: ‘You are a market of one billion customers. If you don’t buy our equipment, we will miss the next revolution.’. ----- Oh yes, I've been reading Arundhati Roy these days.--- Let's at least negotiate properly from a position of strength. All these suited-booted guys who we grovel before, will be eating grass in 20 years if we don't buy their glitzy toys.

  2. When India requests some assets, the US proposes something else. This happened with javelin. It happened with m777. Clearly, the American way of rejecting a proposal is to offer another proposal which it knows will be striked down as well.

    I think India has understood this well. The sole aim of these visits seem to be to pander to the intrusive role of the media.

  3. Read this - 'This offer represents an outstretched arm to India by its friends in Washington. If New Delhi were to reject this, it would severely weaken pro-India voices within the US government and do real damage to the defence relationship.”
    Can sales pressure be any more brazen than this? Buy our stuff, else ----! At the end of it, it is all about American business interests. Like a money lender in village 'Take loan from me for your daughter's wedding, else you know what all I can do'.

  4. This is what happens when we do not develop indegenious capability. This is one thing we need to learn from china. Every country places itself first.
    Our Air Force officer corps needs to hang its head in shame for such blatant disregard for local technology while demanding the bestest and most expensive toys from aboard.
    We have ignored aviation for too long after Kiran and Marut. Now we are paying the price.
    The price will keep going up unless we accelerate our own armed drone programs Tapas and Ghatak.
    Then ensure IAF buys a 100 Tejas mk1A , then develop Mk2 and AMCA.

  5. When I hear of Indian leaders today that they have entered into an agreement with so and so to buy some equipment, I immediately get the image of the ghosts of Bofors Westland DWD, VIP Choppers, Submarines and so on and so forth. also get jitters of the Arms dealers spending millions to buy media to write about BJP or anti BJP articles and comments. Or why should someone mention Arundhati to add some meat to his illogical arguments as if she is the best expert on arms deals. Being blind men of Hindostan describing an elephant as Modi has no purpose.


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