Mattis’ agenda

Image result for pics of Gen Mattis

(US Secretary of Defence)

The US Secretary of Defence retired General James Mattis has a two point-agenda for his trip  starting September 25 – get New Delhi to commit to purchasing the Lockheed Martin  F-16 Block 70 combat aircraft along with its assembly line under the aegis of the bilateral Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and to give assurances that India’s Afghanistan policy will not undercut the American strategy to prevent the restoration of Taliban rule in Kabul. The F-16, a 1970s-era aircraft with zero potential for further development, is a hard sell. The Afghanistan issue will be just as tricky because, from the Indian perspective, the Pakistan angle skews what’s asked of India.

The F-16 was the first to be dropped by the Indian Air Force when short-listing aircraft for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) acquisition. Lockheed Martin has not had much success pushing this aircraft as a single engine aircraft buy for IAF through the political channels either. It had hoped President Donald Trump would induce Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do a ‘Rafale’ – i.e., peremptorily announce a deal for the F-16 as he had for 36 of the French fighter aircraft when he was in Paris in April 2015. But that didn’t happen. Dassault Avions, the maker of Rafale, was advantaged because the IAF backed the deal, hoping to use the initial transaction to leverage the procurement of 100 more of this aircraft. But the F-16 is not favoured by the IAF over the newer Swedish JAS-39 Gripen E.

This is so for two reasons. The F-16 is obsolete and has exhausted its potential for further development. Upgraded avionics cannot make the F-16 fly and manoeuvre better than the version of the aircraft with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which last is its other negative. PAF long ago passed on an F-16 to China for its aircraft designers to study and to reverse engineer many of its technologies. So this plane is an open book for India’s two adversaries – bad situation for any “frontline” IAF aircraft to be in.

Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Washington has argued for the F-16 as a flagship DTTI initiative less in terms of its flying and fighting qualities or its survival prospects in the lethal air warfare environment of the 21st Century than in terms of India joining the defence industrial “global supply chain”. However, as a US-India Business Council report makes clear Lockheed Martin will not transfer proprietory technologies nor guarantee the performance of any Indian-made F-16. What will therefore eventuate is the chosen “strategic partner” – Tata Advanced Systems (TAS) getting locked into the same mode of assembling aircraft from imported kits involving screwdriver technology that has stunted the Hindustan Aerospace Ltd. How TAS’ doing what HAL has done for the last 60 years will advance India’s indigenous combat aircraft design, development, and manufacturing capability is a mystery, and makes a mockery of the  ‘Make in India’ policy.

Moreover, depending on how keen the Trump Administration is to close US’ $24.3 billion 2016 trade deficit with India, Washington could veto Sweden’s sale of Gripen aircraft and technologies as 35%-40% of the components of this aircraft are sourced from the US. This is how an India relying on imported armaments gets shafted.

On the other issue, as a former head of the US Central Command Mattis appreciates Pakistan’s indispensability as base for military operations to bring the Taliban in Afghanistan to their knees. But Islamabad has insisted that India’s role in Afghanistan be restricted and complained about the Indian support for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accused by Islamabad of terrorism in Pakistan. The RAW-TTP link was publicly revealed in April this year by its former commander, Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Mattis’ request that India moderate its support for TTP will put Delhi in a fix because  TTP  is useful as an Indian counterpart of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad deployed by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence in Jammu & Kashmir. Severing relations with TTP will mean India surrendering an active card in Pakistan and a role in Afghanistan as TTP additionally provides access to certain Afghan Taliban factions. This, together with the Abdul Ghani regime’s desire for India’s presence and the tested friendship with Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik-dominated ‘Northern Alliance’, ensures that no solution for peace in Afghanistan can be cobbled together without India’s help.

Mattis’ returning home empty-handed will not hurt relations with the US at all because there’s China and the US needs India to strategically hinder it.


Published in the Hindustan Times, 22 September 2017 with title “Mattis will hardsell outdated F-16s”, at




About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Mattis’ agenda

  1. Karthik S P says:

    “The RAW-TTP link was publicly revealed in April this year by its former commander, Ehsanullah Ehsan.”
    You really buy that? Looked more like drama – directed by the ISI, like Kulbhushan Jadhav’s ‘confession’.

  2. Ankith says:

    As they don’t want to buy the F-16 and may not be allowed to buy Gripen E, why don’t they scrap the deal and use the money to boost Tejas mk1a, MK2 and AMCA programs.

    Sir how does the Tejas Mk1a stand against Gripen E.

  3. andy says:

    Getting the F16 for the IAF would be a disaster of epic proportions.Not only is it old at the present time but by the time it reaches the end of its lifecycle in the IAF, sometime in the 2060s, it would be ancient.However much its dressed up by upgrading avionics etc, the F16 would still be almost a century old design by the 2060s.How progressive is that?

    So what exactly is the need for a new single engined fighter?Its to do with the constant refrain of the IAF of not being in a position to fight a two front war due to ‘depleting squadron strength’.

    In war games conducted by the same IAF the SU30MKI flew almost 10hour,1800 kms combat missions,with mid air refuelling,switching between the eastern and western fronts in the same sortie.This is possible because the SU30 can fly for 4.5 hours on internal fuel.

    In the 1950s, the defence brass recommended 64 squadrons of fighters for the IAF. That was revised down to 42 in the 1960s( Underline 42 in the 1960s) However, modern aircraft like the Sukhoi are versatile fighters that not only undertake strike and bombing missions but can also provide combat air patrol, creating a safe envelope for other jets to operate freely.
    What it means is that compared with previous generation aircraft, today you need fewer warplanes to get the same job done.

    With such capabilities and the qualitative edge they give to the airforce, its surprising that no one is talking about inducting more SU30 into the IAF.Whats more surprising is that no one in the govt has called this bluff of the IAF,which just seems to be a charade for induction of exorbitant/obsolete western fighter jets.Its just like a kid hankering after a new toy.

    This pigheaded fetish resulted in the exorbitant white elephant Rafale being procured from France,$8+ billions for just 36 units,now they’ve asked the govt to buy 36 more since their cost would “only” be 60% of the original deal.Really? how convenient.This is how they relentlessly push for new western toys and demean indegenous efforts like the LCA Tejas.Tejas was one of the stars at the air show in Bahrain. That it performed without a hitch at a foreign air show is the aeronautical equivalent of human evolution, from ape to homo sapien. It’s nothing less than a miracle.Still the IAF would lose no time in shafting the LCA into oblivion given the opportunity.For the LCA to reach its pinnacle the government should get rid of the foreign import mafia that lives on defence commissions. (BrahMos director A. Sivathanu Pillai has written in his book how he checkmated serving military generals who attempted to scuttle the missile.) 

    What the IAf doesn’t seem to realise is that with the induction of cruise missiles like the Brahmos and impending induction of armed drones ,aka Avenger,manned aircraft are slowly but surely losing at lot of their relevance.The IAF probably fears the cruise missile more than it fears depleting squadrons. When you factor in zero risk to pilots, pinpoint accuracy and lower costs, then the cruise missile offers war planners a tantalising war fighting option that is almost surgical. The Air Force will not admit it, but it is true that cruise missiles are beginning to crowd out traditional jet fighters away from the combat zone.

    This was most spectacularly demonstrated during the ongoing war in Syria.On the night of 5 October 2015, the Russian Navy launched a withering missile attack on ISIS and US-backed terror groups. In three days of ceaseless cruise missile attacks, the Russians destroyed more terrorists – plus their communication and ammunition hubs – than a joint team of western and Arab air forces had done in 365 days of almost non stop sorties.

    The IAF could learn from the failures of the US Air Force, for instance, which has landed itself in a hole because of its inability to shake off dogmatic approaches to combat and war strategy. The US Air Force is living a nightmare where it has invested heavily in silver bullets such as the F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters that have literally cost trillions but contributed zilch to national security.

    If the IAF keeps demanding exorbitant fighters like the Rafale jet rather than reversing its declining importance in combat, then it is in serious trouble. The air force brass might well remember the words of Italian air power theorist General Giulio Douhet, who wrote in his 1921 book, The Command of Air: “Victory will smile upon those who anticipate changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after changes occur.”

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Mattis will sell F-35. This F-16 is all a distraction. Just the way Mirage was replaced by Rafale.

    I will be surprised if this was not suggested by our people, already and this switch over turns out to be a Pentagon brainchild.

    • Of course, the end-game is F-35 that IAF is salivating over. But Lockheed is requiring that IAF lead in with the F-16 buy and there’s the rub.

      • Rupam Das says:

        Namaskaar Bharatji,

        Is the IAF really that dumb to go for the back breaking expensive F-35, that to when the DOD of US has itself pointed out several flaws in F-35 which questions its performance, very high maintenance costs and also delay in reaching targets over the span of the development, same goes for the Defense Ministry including the Defense Minister. Also the document itself is available on the net such that one cannot say that it is classified. I smell something fishy here, are top officials in the govt. and IAF getting hefty bonus for promoting the old F-16 and new and not yet operational and viable F-35.

      • Mattis is likely to seek to convince India to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 aircraft — a lucrative deal pegged at $15 billion.
        Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the fighter jet to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.

  5. Venkat says:

    After Kargil IAF wanted to buy 100+ mirages. This became a mega project due to some rules of MoD. Anyway stand off weapons are the future . Hence it makes sense to have 200+ Su-30 able to carry 3 Brahmos/Cruise missiles each. Maybe Each Tejas too should be able carry one heavy ARM/cruise missile /Brahmos.
    We need to better plan spares and air fields (with shelters for all fighters) to have higher availability and life.
    These need to be backed rocket artillery of ranges upto 80-100 km and armed helicopters. This is happening with so many Rudras and LCH planned. The locally built 155 mm artillery too should work cheaper than imported stuff. (Imagine 1800+’of these beauties)
    So should 42 squadrons remain or should be re examined ?

    • andy says:

      I concur with your view,the Prahar short range missile(150km range)and the ATAGS 155mm 52caliber artillery gun (48kms and counting range) are tactical indigenous systems that can make mincemeat of the enemy frontlines during war.With the Army getting its own attack choppers the IAFs role is set to get more and more diminished.High time their 42 squadrons ‘requirements’ are put under the scanner to avoid bleeding the other more urgent capital procurements of the armed forces.

  6. raja says:

    Devil in the deck!

  7. Prof, in your opinon if push comes to shove, can the single engine fighter induction in sizeable quantities be delayed by another 4-5 years? If so, there is no question of going F-16 or Gripen, and Tejas 1A needs to be the single point focus with multiple lines. We will still need to depend upon the US for the F404 engine. Buy more Rafales if one has to 😦 , but no single engine fighters except Tejas!!

    • Have been advocating Tejas (Mk-1A, Mk-II, AMCA as the short -t-medium range air defence in large swarms, along with Su-30 upgraded to ‘Super 50’ config for many years now (look up the posts). This is the best, most cost-effective, solution.

  8. devraj says:

    Sir,india very well knows f16 is outdated fighter.but india buying it to please that india will get GE414 engines for its tejas well as acess to usa super aircraft engine technology

    • Any supplier state will sell anything they can, GE 404 and GE 414 engines whether India buys anything else or not.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        It is not just about the supplier-buyer relationship. Off course in that relationship the supplier will supply whatever is asked for for a suppliers price.

        Be it WW-1 or WW-2 or the Cold War. The role of India was central – either by way of providing cannon fodder or by way of neutrality that was enforced by threat of Sanctions and Assassinations and Wars of 48, 62, 65 etc. All western countries (think tankers) know this. So does China. China has since political de-colonization of last century, claimed that India is merely a sidekick of the west. Nehru was just a leader of the bourgeois. Now for the Chinese to act upon their claim, it would be important to actually show that India is useless without the US or Western support. Chinese have calculated long enough that to be able to lead the world, they first need to be able to lead Asia. That can happen only when they economically+strategically oust India (or japan or any Asian country which can matter). Chinese too are looking to create their own dependencies. It is easier to negotiate with the leader of a bloc which will then ensure compliance.

        In such a situation, the US pivot, to create an Asian-NATO serves no purpose if India does not agree to serve. LEMOA was only the theoretical basis for that servitude. The material basis is the technological and strategic servitude and F-35 is that material basis. If India convinces itself to buy the F-35 then off course the AMCA will be a circus side show. Not unlike what the LCA has deliberately been reduced to today. This tack can serve the purpose for at least next 50 years. By that time probably the narrative would have changed in India the way it was changed in Japan and South Korea. India must be pacifist and willing to serve for better salaries. Only then India becomes useful for both China and USA.

        F-35 is among the most important piece of equipment to enslave India at a practical level alongwith the economic grip of technocrat-politicians in the mould of Saakashvili. The F-16 and F-18 are being mooted only so that certain people here can reject them to burnish their pro-India credentials and eventually so that ‘The People’ of India under these able peoples-leadership can convince itself that F-16 or F-18 are not good enough and the only other single engined option is what, but F-35. The Single engined in IAF and the no-engine specs RFI in the Indian Navy gel perfectly. Much too perfectly. Mattis is merely playing his part of this Raas Lila.

        If it would have mattered (I admit it does not), then I would like to challenge IAF and Indian Navy to actually buy the F-16/F-18 and show some courage in the Himalayas and along the Mallaca, anytime of their choosing in next 50 years.

  9. Mustafa Baloch says:

    Dear BK ji………….
    After reading about your article in Express Tribune Pakistan…I read your article in HT and from there was directed to this blog.I find you are into Pakistan bashing. Is this any way to serve as a responsible neighbor? Surely not! Your present disclosure of RWP-TTP nexus has been received with concern as Pakistan has been accusing India of heinous acts of terror on her soil by RAW and its affiliates. This is proof beyond doubt that India has unleashed acts of terror in Balochistan and FATA, KPK of Pakistan. The recent posters of Free Balochistan have also been attributed to software houses in Delhi and Bangaluru. Arrest of Commander Kalbhushan makes a perfect case for nefarious designs.

    • bozdargm@ — On RAW-TTP links I expressly referred to Ehsanullah Ehsan’s press conference in Islamabad in April oif this year where he admitted this connection. Please google and you’ll get a pageful on the subject.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      bozdargm@ / Mustafa Baloch,

      Musharrf’s life was reported to have been saved by Indian Intel on more than one occasion. Indian Intel saved half your erstwhile country (presently called Bangladesh) from being as suicidal and genocidal as you. Indian Intel has resisted the temptation for revenge much more than you people actually deserve. It is the job of any intel agency to have links contacts and sources inside every player in a given situation. Indian Intel filters out for tracking every uniformed jihadi starting from the rank of Col. in your army. This is how you have been kept safe from yourself. If Indian Intel has contacts inside TTP then most likely they are there to protect you people from Jihadis you have bred.

    • Karthik S P says:

      If after decades of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism India doesn’t retaliate, it would be the biggest fool on Earth.
      By the way, why use Baloch as your last name? Ashamed of your real name? Yup, you should be..

  10. raja says:

    Ironman and hardworkers alone
    can bring back the prodigal son!

  11. raja says:

    Russia,sk should actively engage nk for eventual unification.will create new importance.Many benefits!

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