Surrendering strategic space, steaming into trouble

Image result for pics of jaishankar and rajnath singh with pompeo and esper

[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.

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.
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12 Responses to Surrendering strategic space, steaming into trouble

  1. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi Bharat sir….just clear me a confusion. Since India has signed ISA with america, so whichever Indian private firm partners with american company for the so called joint production of weapons or transfer of technology, something like that ; so US will not allow this Indian private firm for partnership with Russian company as it may impact the intellectual property of USA??? Am I right??

  2. V.Ganesh says:

    Sir, when you say paying up billions of dollars and when Modi brings the F-16 contract, do you mean that he has decided to buy it?

  3. Mala shukla says:

    Why aren’t you more integral to the government?

  4. vivek says:

    so this obsolete F16 aka F21 is already finalized??

  5. V.Ganesh says:

    Sir, is it possible that Modi could to do a government-to-government deal with the USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ—½for buying 114 F-21?

    • Possibly, to avoid taint of any hanky-panky.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        Sir, I’d appreciate if you could answer the following questions.

        1. If, like you say, Modi does a G2G deal for the F-21 with the USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ—½, do you think he’ll have the stomach for a G2G deal for 114 F-21s, because going by his G2G stomach track record, he bought only 36 Rafales in a G2G deal with France πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ—Ό?

        2. Also, when he does a G2G deal with the USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ—½, will he do it for the F-18 for the Indian Navy?

        3. Presuming Modi buys F-21 and F-18 for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, then, what should the two do and how will China πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ and Pakistan πŸ‡΅πŸ‡° perceive it and react and how should the two services go ahead?

        4. If, Modi does G2G deals to avoid taint or hanky-panky, shouldn’t henceforth all military requirements of the Indian Armed Forces be done through the G2G route as they will eliminate middlemen and will be corruption-free?

  6. Philip says:

    This betrays a lack of self confidence in both babudom and the leadership.The simple facts available to any basic level of military analysis will tell you that the US aircraft is the same F-16 that Pak has operated for decades,and like the Ambassador of yore,new editions simply had new bumpers,tail lights and lettering fitted ?to conceal the truth.

    If the mantra of the govt. is a genuine attempt to ” make in India”,then Tejas must be pursued even in its modest form to build at least the same numbers of the erstwhile HF-24 which suffered for lack of a suitable engine. Tejas too suffers from the same disease, with the dud Kaveri engine unable to power a single aircraft.Tejas at least has turned the corner.A further order of MK 1As would establish a chain of local suppliers and support to the OEM.

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