After the successful visit of PM Modi to U.S, the Indo-US relations seem to be on track. The Indo-US relation that thawed in the early 2000’s appears to be strong despite suffering some ups and downs in the last few years. One of the prime features of these Indo-US relations is the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue.
The diplomats of both the countries doesn’t hesitate in lauding the shared principles of Democracy, freedom and Liberty between India and USA, the largest and the oldest democracies in the world respectively. They further underscore the point of shared strategic interest in ‘containing’ China and rebalancing Asia to counter the threat of a rising China. But on the ground very little has taken place to achieve the above objectives.
The strategic partnership between India and US seems to be driven only by defence related deals given the huge increase in the quantum of defence related trade between these two countries. An analysis of the so called ‘strategic partnership’ between India and US and the associated defence deals raises some serious and inconvenient questions regarding their utility and effects on achieving our shared strategic interests.
Guise of Strategic Interest to sell India weapons?
In the realm of International geopolitics there has been very little progress in achieving joint strategic interest through co-operation between India and US. The US continues to arm and fund the Armed forces of Pakistan, a country which supports terrorism against India as a state policy. Similarly the decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan seriously jeopardizes the developmental investments and strategic interests of India in Afghanistan. The US still fails to raise its voice to condemn the Chinese intrusions at the Sino-Indian border and is more deeply engaged with China economically.
The position of the US in the WTO negotiations stands in contrast with ours. The actual US policy in South Asia raises doubts if the strategic interest of India and US really ‘converge’ or is the term ‘Strategic Interest’ being used as a garb to sell military hardware to India and capture the huge Indian defence market for the profitability of US Industrial Military complexes.
High Technology Military Hardware
There exists a preconceived notion in India that anything made in U.S will be superior in technology. The crash of a recently acquired C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in the month of March suggests otherwise. In a training maneuver involving two Hercules aircrafts, one of the $ 900 million Hercules aircrafts crashed and it killed 5 officers onboard. It is claimed that these so called ‘piece of Art’ military transport planes has counterfeited Chinese components.
In 2011- 2012 the Hercules aircrafts came under scrutiny in the US for having illegal Chinese parts and after further investigation by a committee formed by the US Senate, it was found that counterfeit electronic parts were supplied by a Chinese company called Hong Dark Electronic Trade Company. Surprisingly the Air force was quick to rule out any technical glitch for the Crash even though the FDR (black box that captures the complete flight profile) and CVR (records cockpit conversation for the last 30 minutes) were damaged and were sent to the US for further investigation of the crash. Instead of waiting for the complete investigation to be over with, the Air Force ruled out any technical malfunctioning and the government of India was quick enough to order one more Super Hercules to replace the crashed one.
Are they trying to hide the technological incompetence of those aircrafts and the blunder that they have made in purchasing them? If ‘superior’ technology means counterfeited Chinese Electronic parts then it’s definitely not in the strategic interest of India to pay a huge amount of public money for it.
The Recent Failures to Sell Military Equipment to India
Most of the deals that were clinched by the US were negotiated through ‘Government to government’ bilateral negotiations. These Bilateral agreements didn’t involve other competitors from other nations and were decided upon without much trials of the prospective hardware. In two instances, when the US participated along with other competitors in tenders floated by India’s Ministry of Defence forpurchases of Military equipments, they failed miserably in winning the contracts.
The US tried to sell two different Aircrafts from two different manufacturers to India during the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition for 128 Multi Role fighter aircrafts. Both the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and Boeing F-18 A Super Hornet were contenders in winning the MMRCA tender. All the aircrafts were tested by the Indian Air Force in the hot climate of Jaisalmer and the cold dry climate of Leh. After the trials French Rafale Fighters were selected.
Similarly when a tender for anti-tank missile was floated, the US made Javelin missile system was rejected and Israeli Spike missile system was selected. The US had apparently submitted an older version of its Javelin Missile system in the tender.Thus it is quite evident that when US military hardware competed in defence tenders they were found to be unsuitable as per the requirements of Indian armed forces and Indian conditions.
In this regard the trend of buying US military equipment through bilateral negotiation in the name of ‘shared’ Strategic interest is not only uneconomical, due to the lack of competition by other countries, but also detrimental to the overall efficiency of our armed forces.
Whenever the US companies enter into a competition to win a defence contract it results in unabashed lobbying and pitching . The very idea for the demand of a second Strategic dialogue between India and US during the UPA 2 , was to make strong sales pitch for the American Aircrafts in the MMRCA race. During the MMRCA competition Timothy J Roemer was made the US ambassador to India in a bid to pitch for the US made aircrafts in the MMRCA. He lobbied and pitched for the US aircrafts even to point of making the selection of US aircraft as a precondition for a strong Indo-US strategic relation.
Timothy J Roemer while speaking in a conference had said “hopefully the next step (in Indo-U.S. relations) will be as India evaluates the Medium-Multi Role Combat aircraft deal… that they will decide to pick one of the US aircraft, the F-16 Super Viper ( Lockheed Martin ) or the F/A-18 ( Boeing ). This becomes the very logical next step in the new India-US relationship. This will be a very important indicator of where this relationship goes in the 21st century,” It is claimed that huge funds were used to lobby through reputed media outlet to sway the public opinion in the favor of the American contenders. Timothy J Roemer resigned after the US aircrafts were not shortlisted in the MMRCA competition, as successfully lobbying for the deal was one of his priority objectives.
The Lack of any Rigid Shared Strategic Interest
The strategic dialogue between India and US remains, largely a platform for negotiating defence deals and further market access to the US companies. U.S-India defence deals are lucrative for the American defense industries and given the poor domestic demands for defence goods, it is in the mercantilist interest of the US to pitch for sale of US military hardware to India.
When it comes to Asia, India and US do not share any rigid convergence of strategic interests, but like any two major powers in an asymmetrical Multi Polar world, they compete and co-operate between themselves as well as with other major and regional powers. The strategic importance given to the US India defence deals is not justified and is merely being used for facilitating sale of defence related products and thereby enriching the Industrial Military complexes of the United States of America.
By: Avinandan Choudhury
Sources:Arming India Into Defendency, Published By The Hindu
IAF rules out defective Chinese parts for C-130J Super Hercules plane crash, Published by TOI
India’s Rising Military Might: Made in the USA?
India Chooses Israel Over US for $525M Missile Deal, Sources Say, Published by Defense News
Obama dismayed as India rejects arms deal, Published By Aljazeera