India’s Defence Framework With USA

By Ranjit B Rai


New Delhi, 09 July 2005

As the ink on the papers, signed by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in late June, dry along the Potomac river in DC, it appears that India has jumped the gun by entering into a far reaching, path breaking 10 year long Defence cooperation framework with USA, which has upset the Communist supporters of the UPA government. They claim they were not consulted. One would assume Russia, India’s long-term ally was taken into confidence before India entered the American military den, gladiator like. The Indian team that accompanied Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Washington, at a time when the Pentagon and American troops were knee deep in the Iraq quagmire and Afghanistan, included India’s outgoing Defence Secretary Ajai Vikram Singh, the three Deputy Chiefs of Staff, and head honchos of India’s military industrial complex. American giants like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and others met with visiting reps of Hindustan Aeronautics, Bharat Electronics, Bharat Earth Movers, Wipro, Tatas, Larsen and Tubro, Birla VXL and Zen technologies among others. India is certainly basking in the shine of the economic progress made by the country, on the heels of rising exports, software and BPO incomes and FDI and NRI investments, accounting for its huge accumulated foreign exchange reserves. The Ministry of Finance is keen to expend some of it to avoid inflation, and hence more Indians are rushing to buy companies abroad, and eyeing collaborations.

Even the G8, the club of the rich and powerful, have invited PM Manmohan Singh to attend their meeting at the Gleneagles golf course in Scotland. In the new economic thinking there are two ways of viewing countries being rich and/or economically powerful. Conventionally it is by the total GNP and per-capita income, in which India is ranked pathetically low. Another is using purchasing-power parities, rather than the misleading market exchange rates and in that matrix India’s position is high. On this account our ego is being boosted, to deal with the rich and mighty who want our help to generate employment, and make both of us richer. This appears laudable, but will call for swift business like decision making.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has not been able to sanction a single big-ticket defence purchase since he took over, despite the pressing cry of the Armed Forces especially the Navy for submarines and MR aircraft, and a healthy budget provided to the MOD. Yet he has suddenly found a new ally in the Pentagon, whose long-term aim will include baits to dethrone Russia as India’s largest supplier of military hardware. Concurrently USA also wishes to remain Pakistan’s ally and provide it military aid in billions, for more reasons than one. India is therefore willy nilly headed for a most delicate balancing act, in what could be a dichotomy of interests, though the Armed Forces and bureaucracy are thrilled.

The agreement calls for bi annual meetings and visits, and many more exchanges for training and exercises, for starters. Analysts opine that the part on military supplies from USA will take time as the acquisition process in India, is in any case dilatory, and the new 340 pages long Defence Procurement Procedures 2005 for revenue and capital expenditure released by the Defence Minister, has clauses of offsets and multiple bids. It also has complicated evaluations and clearances and the like. Many will shirk from decision making since it is likely to involve inter ministerial coordination. This is a sphere in which India’s record has not been creditable. Yet the time has come to hark George Washington’s utterances made in 1783. “True friendship” he said, “is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation “. It appears India’s adversity with USA is over.

However another catch is that India is heavily dependant on Russia and some CIS states to keep it military machine in good fettle, for the foreseeable future. Reports in the media that the Indian Navy could well receive an Akula nuclear submarine in 2008 on lease, when INS Vikramaditya ( Gorshkov) arrives, along with the support Russia is giving to India’s most expensive projects ––the 140 SU 30 MKI, BrahMos and home built nuclear submarine, the ATV –– clearly allows Russia to hold India’s strategic strings in their hands. The highly enriched uranium for the ATV’s reactor will also have to come from Russia. The balancing act can be likened now to a Catch 22 situation. It is going to be the biggest challenge our politico–military establishment has faced, and will be eagerly watched closely the world over.  

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