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India's military purchases: Only the best should do
by Gulshan Luthra
New Delhi (IANS) Mar 13, 2012

illustration only

The US has reiterated a 2005 offer to share hi-tech in defence with India, although this time it appears to be more meaningful and realistic of India's futuristic requirements.

For instance, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has in a recent report to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee suggested that "should India indicate interest in the JSF, the United States would be prepared to provide information on the JSF and its requirements (infrastructure, security, etc.) to support India's future planning".

In fact, an indication in this perspective was given by Lockheed Martin's Vice President for Business Development Orville Prins in January 2010 when he told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that a presentation about the JSF was made to the Indian Navy after it expressed interest in the newer generation of aircraft for its future carrier-based aircraft requirements. Although weapon systems are made in the US by leading companies, they are not authorized to even suggest sales unless there are blessings from the State and Defense Departments.

However, there is perhaps not much hope for the JSF unless the Indian government cancels its agreement with Russia for the nascent Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) or decides to go in for both the options, which sounds difficult if not unlikely. The Russians have a tremendous weakness in electronics warfare systems compared to both the Americans and Europeans, and the FGFA's engines are also yet to be developed. At present, the prototypes are using Sukhoi Su-30 engines.

Even with these, the cost for 148 single seat and 48 twin seater FGFAs, now called Perspective Multirole Fighters (PMF), is estimated to be a huge $35 billion.

In this context, it has to be noted that since 2005, when the US had announced a sea change in its foreign policy to assist India become a global power, India has bought or contracted some $10 billion worth of aircraft and systems from the US. Still, there are many critical technologies that India needs and the US has undeniably the best of them thanks to the billions it pours into military R and D.

There are unmanned aircraft, many onboard systems and components like EW systems, combat radars for aircraft, ships, tanks and land vehicles from companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and United Technologies that could be offered to India without strings.

Notably, irrespective of what is sold by the US to India, the official mention of JSF for India, even within its own system, is a powerful indicator of the extent to which the US administration would go in the future. It is in fact a reiteration of the policy adopted and declared by the previous George Bush administration.

For India, there is an opportunity, if the country chooses to go forward in acquiring a quantum jump in technologies.

There is no way that New Delhi would give up its friendly ties with Moscow, but then Russia has limitations. Moscow does not have the sophistication in many systems, it is not able to ensure near-future or lifetime support, and has the negative capability to go back on its own words as it did in the case of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.

Reports emanating from Moscow already indicate that India's 2009 proposal to develop a Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) in cooperation with Russian expertise is also in jeopardy with the Russians already demanding more money and less involvement.

India would need to balance friendship with Russia and the latter's inability to support India's modernisation programmes. Russia has to accede to its weaknesses and admit them in all fairness. And thanks to the need to phase out the large Soviet-vintage inventory in the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, India can still continue to buy some systems from Russia and some highly sophisticated equipment from the west, the US included.

According to figures presented at a recent seminar on acquisitions, former secretary (Defence Finance) Vinod Misra projected spends of $235 billion over the next 10 years or so.

That is more than enough if India wants to keep everyone happy, but the key has to be to build an edge by acquiring the best for the Indian defenders. The Indian soldier has to have the edge even in the best; it is his own life and the security of India that warrant this. And the edge in techno-quality would be the only guarantee to deter a war, or to be able to punish an aggressor effectively.

Let the armed forces decide what is the best, and so be it. If the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy think that an aircraft like the JSF can give an edge and is also cost-effective, then the government should give it serious consideration.

Gulshan Luthra is a senior defence analyst at India Strategic

Source: Indo-Asia News Service

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