Persons in the know say Russia is offering India the co-development of the MiG 1.44 in the updated LMFS configuration with a conformal bomb bay. Some years back, as noted in this blog, IAF then in the throes of the MMRCA decision had rejected the 1.44. The Russian Air Force is streamlining its inventory to two types of combat aircraft — the “super” Su-30 and the MiG LMFS, Su plus a new generation strategic bomber to replace the Tu-160 Blackjack. The US Air Force is likewise restricting itself to the one type, all-purpose fighter plane — F-35 and its service variants.
If IAF is planning on a similar exercise as it should be doing then, as yet, there’s no hint of it. In any case, for the combat complement one type of aircraft, if anybody has any sense, has to be the indigenous Tejas LCA and its future variants, like the AMCA. It is the other type that will prove to be headache for the country. Just too many aircraft manufacturers are chasing down that slot, and have selected their Indian commercial partners in this venture with an eye firmly on the proximity of these partners to prime minister Modi. Dassault has tied up for its Rafale with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerospace and the Sweden’s SAAB for its Gripen E with the other A in the business world — the Adani’s. Neither Ambani nor Adani have done any aircraft production and have no production wherewithal ecen of a rudimentary kind set up by Mahindra. The only industrial engineering firm that has the resources, if not the actual experience, is L&T which, incidentally, dithered when asked in late 2014 to set up a Tejas production line to compete with HAL. This to say the country faces a nearly bare cupboard where the private sector manufacture of complex fighter aircraft is concerned.
The situation is actually a lot worse. With Trump in the White House, Modi’s earlier plan (hatched during the Obama Administration) of siddling up to the United States seems to have been upended. Not only has Washington not given a fig about Delhi’s concerns on the H1B visa issue but has gone ahead and issued an executive order to tighten up the Indian techie entry channel. It was just the prompting that other countries needed to put in place their own systems of minimizing the entry of Indian IT and other qualified personnel. So Australia followed up by amending its 457 programme, notwithstanding Ausi PM Turnbull’s selfie taking with Modi on the Delhi metro, and Singapore clamped down as well. So all the channels are shutting down in Delhi’s face.
And, far from rearing up against China, Trump turned into a pussycat after hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort White House in Florida, Mar-e-Lago, purring about how well the two had got along and why every thing is hunky-dory where US relations with Beijing are concerned. Meanwhile, Beijing jumped up and down and renamed certain parts of Arunachal Pradesh as a first step to claiming them outright, even as a confused and inactive Delhi has done little but mumble in its cups, when the right cartographic response should have been, as I have long suggested, for a start showing Tibet in a colour other than the Chinese red in all Indian maps, to denote its questionable status as per the December 21, 1961 UN General Assembly Resolution seeking self-determination for Tibet. (India’s Kashmir will not be any more jeopardized because China, as it is, has by its actions supported Pakistan’s case.) This in the context of the Dalai Lama finally showing grit to declare that he may in fact discover his reincarnation here (perhaps, to preempt Beijing’s announcing its own Dalai Lama as it has threatened to do). Instead, MEA and PMO are most exercised about Cmdr Yadav in Pakistani captivity when Pakistan’s intent is plain — to use him as pawn to trade for ISI’s own Lt Col Mohammad Habib Zair, first lured to Lumbini in Nepal by RAW and then, if Pakistani sources are to be believed, shanghaied into India. In other words, with most of Modi’s foreign policy world collapsing around him, his government, typical of GOI, is preoccupied with the least important issue at hand!
Meanwhile — to return to the subject of aircraft! — Lockheed is marshaling its considerable resources in Washington to pressure Modi when he visits Trump in June, into buying the museum-ready F-16, to add to the M-777 howitzer. If Modi could be cajoled into impulse purchasing the Rafale, there’s no guarantee he won’t succumb to Trump’s hectoring, lose his nerve and forget the leverage India has always had but which Delhi has never exercised — its vast, still quite open, market of a billion+ people, or succumb to the canny US President massaging the PM’s ego by various contrivances while dipping into Modi’s pockets for oodles of money he may be willing to shell out on India’s behalf for little in return.
Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has not so gently hinted that an obstreperous Trump will have to deal with the operations of US companies being hampered in India if the US does not ease up and here, again, she stressed the wrong issue — the H1B visas, when there are other graver concerns that should be agitating the government. But whether Modi will be clear in communicating Seetharaman’s intent and sticking by it once Trump rolls out the big guns, meaning the big Indian business houses that usually push the Washington line on everything, is another matter.
As suggested in a previous post, Arun Jaitley is not, unlike his predecessor Parrikar, the man to show at least some resistance against Modi. He’s there precisely to stand beside the PM with the national purse open and his mouth closed. The Finance minister has little instinctive interest or understanding of defence and national security matters except in the perfunctory sense. There’s every reason to believe, for instance, that as defence minister he has not so far studied the IAF’s requirements list and the best way to meet it, and understood the techno-economic sense of making Tejas the main combat aircraft for air force and navy, come what may, or considered just how to deal with the Navy’s expenditure plan amounting to Rs 123 Lakh crores in the foreseeable future. Because every rupee expended in extraneous spending such as on F-16 is a rupee denied the armed services to spend more wisely in the nation’s interest.