[Rajnath Singh and Jaishankar in 2+2 meeting in Washington]
The decisive section in the Joint Statement issued Dec 19 at the end of the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington related to Building an Enduring Defense and Counterterrorism Partnership. It has had some doozies in it. Clearly, the Modi government is so committed, as the Statement said, to ” a comprehensive, enduring, and mutually-beneficial defense partnership and to expand all aspects of their security and defense cooperation” that the price India will end up paying is apparently of little concern to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is like, as the Press has reported, the government’s willingness to ride out the unrest attending on the Citizenship Amendment Act for what the Modi-Amit Shah duo hopes will be long term political gains to them personally and to the Bharatiya Janata Party generally from deepening the communal-religious divide.
The section talks of realizing “the India-U.S. Major Defense Partnership (MDP)” with expanded “military-to-military cooperation” with the “new [annual] tri-service, amphibious exercise – TIGER TRIUMPH” involving the Indian Navy and, on the American side, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, and Africa Command. Its intention is “to expand similar cooperation between their respective Armies and Air Forces” to supplement the yearly Malabar exercise. All this is no bad thing. Moreover, placing an Indian officer to liaison with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and inviting the US military to the 2020 MILAN multilateral naval exercise to support “capacity building efforts in the Indo-Pacific” is also fine. And, there are definite gains from an agreement to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul depots in India for aircraft — but for which planes would be interesting to know. Because these aircraft would have to be in large enough numbers to make the MROs a cost-effective proposition. But OK, so far so good.
Except, all the military exercising, forging service-to-service links, and MROs are essentially cover for the two things Washington has been desperate for: (1) the implementation of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for “secure communication capabilities between the Armed Forces, including the Armies and Air Forces” and (2) the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) facilitating the exchange of “classified military information between Indian and the U.S. defense industries”. Unfortunately, ISA seems designed by Washington to prevent Russian military hardware from being manufactured here under license.
COMCASA, I have long maintained, is an ‘Open Sesame’ for the US formally to penetrate India’s most secret communications grid, including the nuclear command and control net. It can then potentially interfere — if it isn’t able to do so already without the COMCASA, with the communications between the PM (the final nuclear firing authority) and SFC in any crisis.
Paying up tens of billions of dollars to Lockheed and America for the obsolete F-16/F-21 will mean Finance Ministry telling IAF there’s no money for the Tejas LCA programme. And Lockheed is all set to shift the F-16 assembly line from Fort Worth, Texas, to wherever Tata wants to set it up in India. As Tata, VP for global relations (or something), S. Jaishankar pushed the Modi government to buy the F-16. As our esteemed foreign minister he will be saying aye in a cabinet of rubber stamps when Modi brings the F-16 contract to acquire this decrepit old plane for the IAF up for approval. Quite a racket this.
To return to my main thesis, the separate private sector defence industry geared to buying military goods phased out by the US military will be facilitated by the ISA. This is because the US companies do not want their Intellectual Property Rights compromised by having the DPSUs that have produced Russian equipment, to make their products. It stretches the imagination to know what American tech is worth hiding in a 50-yer old F-16, given that its so-called “advanced” avionic packages will come as “black box” technologies for the lifetime of the plane’s production run that Tata and the Indian secondary chain suppliers will have no hand in producing anyway.
But this is only half of our troubles. With the US insisting on sealing defence industries producing their items, Russians too will feel, prestige bound, to argue that DPSUs outputting their more modern, newer generation, Su-30 aircraft, for instance, should be insulated against tech-stealing by Americans.
Where will this end? With two completely separate US- and Russia-sourced fleets, and US oriented private sector and Russian-aligned DPSUs, the Indian military will find itself in an operational quandary if Washington and Moscow also insist — which would be the next level of their gamesmanship — that Indian air force, naval and army bases too cannot have “their” weapons platforms operating from the same bases or use a common logistics infrastructure. This is madness. And India, by trying to be too clever by half — the late K. Subrahmanyam’s special card (sought to be played by his son, Jaishankar) — is stepping right into its own carefully constructed pagal khana.