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India and US defence ties grow stronger

Discussion in 'Indian Defence Forum' started by Marshal, Jun 30, 2008.

  1. Marshal

    Marshal FULL MEMBER

    Feb 6, 2008
    +0 / 31 / -0
    India's civil nuclear agreement with the United States may be in jeopardy because of opposition from Communist members of the country’s coalition government, but defence ties between the two countries are growing steadily.

    Military officials in New Delhi said recent visits to India by senior US officials, including Robert Gates, the defence secretary, in February, were to bolster military ties and agree on weapons deals rather than to rescue the fading nuclear agreement. “Other than obvious commercial interests, the US is keen to invest militarily in India, which it believes, with Washington’s help and hardware, can emerge as a counterweight to China’s growing might across Asia and other vital regions like Africa and the Middle East,” said Lt Gen V K Kapoor, a defence analyst.

    The controversial nuclear agreement, which is undermining the Congress Party-led administration of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, would permit India to conduct nuclear commerce while retaining its active strategic weapons programme, allowing the country to import civil nuclear equipment and fuel such as uranium to power its burgeoning energy requirements.

    At the same time, it also allows India to remain out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, having to place only 14 of its 22 atomic plants and facilities under international safeguards. The formalisation of the agreement, however, remains stalled by opposition from the Communist MPs, who are crucial to the survival of Mr Singh’s coalition, and who view the agreement as a gambit by Washington to “enslave” India.

    The Communist MPs have threatened to bring down the federal coalition if the deal, which is nearing fruition after the recent end of negotiations between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency, is “operationalised”. For the past week Mr Singh has made the nuclear deal the talisman of his commitment to the country’s progress and is locked in deep consultations with the Communists to try and avert a political crisis by clearing the agreement.

    Yet, while the Bush administration considers this deal a major foreign initiative, the possibility of its collapse is unlikely to adversely affect US weapons sales to India.

    “If the India-US civilian nuclear deal collapses, it will not impact on the growing military ties between the two countries,” William Cohen, the US defence secretary under Bill Clinton, declared at DefExpo 2008 in New Delhi in February, at which major US armament companies were well represented.

    “The promise of deeper US-India defence co-operation is now a reality, with collaborations and joint ventures between US and Indian firms already under way,” he said. Indian military purchases are projected to double to more than US$30 billion (Dh110bn) by 2012 as the country’s military seeks to modernise and replace its largely Soviet military hardware. By 2022 spending is expected to reach $80bn.

    US companies, who so far have been slow to reach out to the Indian defence market, are now turning to the country in growing numbers. “In Washington’s strategic calculations, India is an important player that needs closer engagement,” said Brig Arun Sahgal, of the United Service Institute in New Delhi. “US weapon sales only enhance this importance and Washington’s leverage.” India is an important part of America’s overall Asia strategy.

    Since 2002 India has acquired military equipment for about $1.3bn including artillery locating radar, a troop ship, helicopters and military transport aircraft.

    The Indian navy, meanwhile, is negotiating with Boeing to acquire eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for about $2bn and Washington is backing a $10bn contract for 126 multi-role fighters for the Indian air force, for which Boeing and Lockheed Martin were competing alongside Russian and European manufacturers. “There is no strategic divergence between India and the US,” said Lt Gen Kapoor. “Both are a part of the wider concert of democracies and need to become equal allies.”

    Washington is backing up its sales pitches by offering the Indian military training and logistical support. The countries have conducted 50 joint military exercises since 2001 to enhance “functional inter-operability” between their armed forces, and in the coming weeks the Indian air force is scheduled to participate in the prestigious “red flag” exercises at the Nellis air force base in Nevada, which are the US air force’s most sophisticated manoeuvres.

    Despite the Communists’ objections, the Indian air force will proceed with the manoeuvres, arguing they will augment its combat skills. For Washington, Lt Gen Kapoor said, India would not only be a welcome customer of US weapons but a credible ally in a region, where its hold has become tenuous as a result of unpopular military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    But several procedural issues between the United States and India remain unresolved. Washington has so far failed to persuade India to agree to a long-awaited logistical support agreement that would permit the countries’ militaries’ reciprocal use of facilities for maintenance, servicing, refuelling, communications and medical care.
    And India is seeking clarification on the “unduly intrusive” End-user Verification Agreement, which allows spot checks by US defence officials at Indian military installations where US equipment is employed.

    India is also concerned about possible US inspections at its frontline fighter bases and military formations in regions bordering nuclear rivals China and Pakistan.
    But defence officials said the two sides are working on a compromise put forward by India that would provide the US with access to Indian military records with regard to the deployment of US equipment.

    For now, however, the focus is on the nuclear deal that will feature prominently when Mr Singh meets George W Bush on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan early next month.

    Mr Singh strongly believes its successful conclusion, and India’s subsequent access to superior technology, will boost his country’s international profile; but few in his government or administration share his views.