NEW DELHI (TIP): The US is steadily muscling into the lucrative Indian defense market, giving jitters to traditional arms suppliers like Russia, Israel, France and the UK. Having already notched up arms sales worth $8 billion to India in the last few years, despite continuing problems over transfer of “sensitive” technology, it’s aiming to corner much more with the Obama-II administration now taking charge in Washington.
The huge interest in India, which will spend over $100 billion in acquiring weapon systems over the next decade, is evident from the fact that as many as 67 American armament and aviation companies will be hawking their wares in the 9th edition of Aero-India to be held in Bangalore from February 6 to 10. Union defense production secretary R K Mathur on Monday, January 21, said 607 companies, including 352 foreign ones, and 78 official delegations from various countries have already confirmed their participation in the air-show that would be “bigger and better” than the previous editions.
After the US companies, the largest participation will be from France with 49 firms, followed by the UK (33), Russia (29), Germany (22), Israel (18) and Belgium (16). True, the buzz generated in earlier editions, with global aviation majors jostling to grab the $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to supply 126 fighters to IAF, will be missing after India down-selected the French Rafale jet for the final commercial negotiations. But many other mega deals from helicopters and drones to missiles and radars are up for grabs. The market for “rotary birds” is especially big. Indian armed forces want to induct as many as 900 helicopters over the next decade, including 440 light-utility and observation, naval multi-role (139), and light combat choppers (65).
Despite losing out on the MMRCA project, the US would like to bag other deals through either direct commercial sales after vying in an open tender or the FMS (foreign military sales) route with a direct government-to-government agreement. India was the second largest FMS customer of the US in 2011 with imports worth $4.5 billion. With both the US defense industry and the Capitol Hill pushing for expanding the defense trade with India, often hemmed in by restrictive American laws on technology transfers, the Obama administration has anointed deputy defense secretary Ashton B Carter as the “point man” to cement defense sales as the cornerstone of the bilateral strategic relationship.
The US now has even taken to indicating that India’s continuing refusal to ink the so-called “foundational” military pacts like the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) – will not come in the way of it transferring highend defense technology. But for India, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Unlike Russia, Israel or France, India is still not fully convinced about the reliability of the US as a long-term supplier of top-notch military technology.