[Biden’s NSA, Jake Sullivan, & Ajit Doval in Washington, DC]
The US government and the Washington policy establishment has been aware for some time now of the brewing Indian dissatisfaction with America promising but not delivering advanced military and other technology. The Biden Administration has been wondering how best to try and mitigate the situation without altogether dismantling the present South Asia policy structure. It is an issue, many in Washington believe, was beginning to colour Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s evolving attitude to strategic cooperation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
This American take on the state of bilateral relations became clear in a seminar arranged not too long ago by a former senior Trump regime official at a Washington thinktank to facilitate my interaction with policy experts and the like. The topic was the state of Indo-US strategic linkages. Discussing the reasons for the halting progress in Indo-US strategic cooperation between the two countries, which has puzzled and dismayed many Americans, I elaborated why, in my view, this was so — essential lack of trust. Well into the discussion, my host asked me, point-blank to name the technologies the Indian military would like to get its hands on. I responded with indirection.
I mentioned assistance in developing a jet turbine engine for combat aircraft because it was an underderway collaborative venture that was abruptly terminated by President Donald Trump. Next I suggested silencing technology for diesel submarines that the US Navy has completely discarded in favour of an all nuclear fleet. And, in the context, moreover, of the Indian government’s unwillingness remotely to risk doing anything, take any action, however much it might be in the national interest, for fear of triggering an adverse US reaction, the need for Washington to signal New Delhi that sanctions won’t happen should India resume thermonuclear testing — something that is necessary for the country to obtain, for the first time, credible strategic forces featuring high-yield staged hydrogen weapons and, more importantly, deterrence-wise, psychological, parity with China.
These were deliberately hard asks and elicited mostly knowing smiles, because I had stepped into ‘no go’ territory and picked to see if there was any change or movement in the generally punitive-minded US’ India policy. For the most part, the US in the past 60 years obsessed about preventing India from securing an N-Bomb, failing which, sought to curtail, to the extent possible, its credibility. This America has succeeded in doing, thanks to the so-called “civilian nuclear cooperation deal” of 2008 negotiated by the present external affairs minister in his then avatar as Joint Secretary (Americas) in the Foreign Office. It has left this country with only the pretence of being a thermonuclear weapons state and the slimmest of chances of ever realizing Bhabha’s 3-stage plan to exploit the country’s vast thorium reserves for energy self-sufficiency. Among the many conditions accepted by Jaishankar were (1) nonresumption of underground nuclear tests that has left the thermonuclear weapons programme half-baked with a basic design that went phut in Pokhran in 1998, (2) a severe reduction in the number of the indigenous CANDU power reactors whose spent fuel was reprocessable into weapons grade plutonium, meaning both the sources and the quantity of weapons usable fissile material available to the weapons unit atTrombay were reduced, and (3) purchase by India of exorbitantly-priced light water power reactors from the US, France [and Russia] run on imported low-enriched uranium fuel which made India an energy dependency (like the arms dependency India already is), provided outside powers a stranglehold on power generation, putting Indian industry running on this electricity at their mercy, and starved the follow-on 2nd stage fast breeder reactor- and 3rd-stage thorium reactor-programmes of funds now diverted to buying imported reactors and fuel.
Moreover, even as the US policy of punishing India for not joining the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty was on over-drive, successive Administrations after Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger’s breakthrough with Beijing, helped China modernize its economy and its military and satellite sensor and launch capabilities with dollops of techological aid starting with the ‘Orient Pearl’ programme during the Reagan era to upgrade the avionics suite on the Chinese MiG — F-7 and, in order to counterbalance India in South Asia and as inducement for Pakistan to participate in defeating the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan approved in 1979-1980 — and this was President Jimmy Carter’s NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski’s most damaging diplomatic move, Dengxiaoping’s transferring nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan. So much for the US as the foundational pillar of the global nonproliferation order.
As regards, the conventional submarine technology I brought up: Nobody expects the US to part with submarine tech of any kind for any reason — it hasn’t done so to its closest ally, Britain. The idea was simply to guage the reaction of Americans who have served in the US government and been longtime part of the policy circles.
In this context, the new Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), enunciated in Modi’s meeting with Biden last year, and fleshed out by the two National Security Advisers, Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval, on Feb 1, like the 2012 DTTI (Defence Trade and Technology Initiative) may end up being more a bandied about acronym than a policy vehicle actually delivering anything of note.
Parallel to the Doval-Sullivan meeting, the visiting US Under-Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and Indian external affairs minister Jaishankar engaged in the usual persiflage that high officials of the two countries indulge in, occasion permitting. There was talk of, what else?, “policy convergences” presumably in dealing with China — the common threat, and of Washington’s supposed desire to help India become less dependent on Russian armaments — she called it “60 years of entanglement”, by doing what exactly? Why, relying on American arms instead, of course. This, incidentally, has been the strategic aim of US policy mid-1980s onwards when Reagan’s Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger visited Delhi with “an open order book” for India to access any piece of US military hardware and technology, or so I was told then by Weinberger’s adviser in the Pentagon at the time, Michael Pillsbury.
India’s relations with Russia and meeting its military (and energy) requirements are two separate and distinct policy streams, as Jaishankar no doubt made clear to Nuland. But the US apparently wants to see them merged. Whence, ICET, notwithstanding the DTTI already on the anvil producing nothing. While it it is all very well to dangle a carrot before a mule with blinkers, it is necesary now and then to replace the old carrot with a shinier, plumper, carrot for which the animal can keep lunging, and in the process pull a heavier load. Thus, going beyond DTTI , ICET promises cooperation in semi-conductor chip design and fabrication, artificial intelligence, and cyber warfare which, Washington hopes, will increase the motivation for the Narendra Modi regime to become more overtly active in militarily hemming China, especially in the maritime sphere and, on the side, help out the US economy by finalising a Free Trade Agreement (which negotiations are stuck on disagreements in numerous product/industry areas) and the US defence industry by making the by now customary deals worth billions of dollars for transport and maritime surveillance planes (C-17s, C-130s, P-8Is).
While collaborating on Fabs, AI and cyber is for the future, the immediate lure is the proposed production in India of General Electric’s 414 jet turbine engine for fighter aircraft. Like the nuclear deal that drove a stake through the heart of the Indian nuclear energy programme, accepting licensed manufaacture of this jet power plant that Jaishankar, Doval and the air force are pushing to meet immediate needs violate Modi’s ‘atm nirbharta‘ policy and principle. The need was for Doval and Jaishankar to stand firm on technical assistance on a timebound contract to get the indigenous Kaveri jet engine developed at the DRDO-GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) flying. Absent such a programmatic thrust, the nascent aviation industry in the country will have a hollow core. No aviation industry anywhere without a servicable homegrown and designed combat jet aircraft engine to work with, has amounted to much.
Worse, there is no guarantee that proposals for collaborative ventures in the Fab, AI and cyber fields, or even for the GE 414 engine, will sail through at the Washington end, considering the US government’s approval process will require them to run the gauntlet of export controls and other procedural restrictions in the Pentagon and, even more onerously, in the US Department of Commerce — the final clearing agency. Indeed, it is such bureacratic hurdles that were, incidentally, hinted at by a senior US official who is reported as saying: “I think on both sides we were quite candid about the challenges that we pose to each other from a regulatory standpoint. In many cases that gets in the way of the vision of deeper and broader technology cooperation.” [The Hindu, Feb 2, 2023] The “regulatory” muddle will always provide the US with an out, an excuse to not deliver on high-tech on time, or even at all. But it will also enable Washington to string the Indian government along for as long as it serves the US purposes by promising just the regulatory reform needed as being round the corner to keep Delhi hooked.
It is a warning to the Modi government to heed the past and the record, and to consume all US promises of advanced technology with tons of salt. The trouble is the Indian government and the Indian military find it hard to resist the easy option — buy the proven GE 414 jet engine, than commit to, and invest in, and otherwise forcefully drive the Kaveri engine project to completion with or without external help, and whatever it takes, including involving private sector talents and capabilities in a project accorded national priority and realised in “technology mission” mode (that got us the Agni series of ballistic missiles).
Or, the country and government should prepare to see the Tejas 1A, the navalised Tejas, and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, and the future of the aviation industry, in fact, held hostage by the GE 414 engine and, by extension, the US government. It will write finis to the nascent Indian aviation industry central to which is a homegrown design and development of a jet powerplant for combat aircraft — something to build around.
It is passing strange that, despite their questionable understanding of the national interest and, based on it, their negotiating records, Jaishankar and Company are allowed by ideologically differing governments repeatedly to cut crucial deals with the US that have amounted to putting a noose around the Indian strategic deterrent, and now will do the same with the defence, specifically aviation, industry and handing the rope to Washington with a hope and prayer that the Americans will desist from pulling it at a time of their choosing, for policy reasons of their own. .
Good Morning Dr. Karnad, Any specific reason why GOI is not involving Private Corporations and forming an entity like DARPA to look into areas of critical defense technologies?
Vested interests (DRDO, Dept of Defence Production within Defence Ministry).
Email by J. Sircar:
Sun, 5 Feb at 10:12 am
Beautiful piece, Bharat, but as long as we have a donkey who hankers for US approval at the helm, one who is willing to be guided by a vociferous stick insect peddling American interests, your cogent piece will find few takers. History shows lndians are genetically greedy and servile towards white men, and 75 years of independence has changed nothing. The 414 bait is designed to keep the lndian donkey chasing the carrot instead of looking for a French or Russian alternative.
You mentioned the Kaveri – this lemon reminds me of another flop engine, the Dragonfly, which was the great hope of the British aircraft industry in the post WW1 years. History repeats itself…..
Don’t agree with you that Kaveri is anything like Dragonfly. It has potential — it just needs to be realised in “technology mission” mode.
Email from Vice Admiral Raman Puri (Retd), former FOCINC, Eastern Naval Command, and head of the Integrated Defence Staff
Sun, 5 Feb at 9:47 am
Agree with you totally in respect of our jet engine strategy. Actually DRDO has pushed for further development of Kaveri with French collaboration more than a decade ago a move torpedoed by a committee headed by an Air Marshal . The then DG Aero resigned on this issue and joined IISc pursuing research. We waste billions in these joint ventures but will not invest much lesser amounts to be self reliant. The system below has just no confidence in itself.
A brilliant analysis on India’s military strategic dilemma.
It is futile to expect the Modi Raj to take control in the fundamentals of India’s sovereign interest and security in view of Modi’s background – a thousand years of subservience is impregnated in his mental capacity as in “koi nehi aya, koi nehi ghussa”. The absence of Indira Gandhi is glaring in India’s statecraft and foreign affairs.
Indira Gandhi was as much a shrinking lily as any garden variety Indian politician before or since. For instance, she cancelled the subsequent nuclear tests to the one test in 1974 she had okayed because she succumbed to a hint of a threat by Henry Kissinger who, in a phone conversaation, reminded her of what had happened a year earlier to Chile’s Leftist President Salvador Allende. He was assasinated in the capital city, Santiago, by a special ops CIA squad working with the Chilean Army staging a coup de’etat that brought in the military junta rule of General Augusto Pinochet.
This is mind boggling “top secret”!
I have failed to get a trace of this for all these years in my reading of past political news. But I will accept since it comes from you and not from someone else’s fake news.
Kissinger had given such murderous threat to other national leaders true, but he also failed in many cases to succeed with his threat. One such instance comes in mind is that of Fidel Castro of Cuba.
It is very hard for me to accept that Indira Gandhi could not call Kissinger’s bluff. The Indian security and intelligence cell RAW could have buckled under CIA which caused Indira Gandhi to give in and postpone the nuclear trigger. Or it could be that the technological masters under CIA behind the scenes pressure had advised the Govt that it was not an opportune time to conduct their experiment as they had not progressed far enough in their preparation.
India is a very different from South American countries, and I doubt whether Kissinger would have succeeded.
Excellent and timely article.
I’ve been reading about the Kaveri engine being ready for at least six years. Nothing has happened. I don’t know what is so special about this ‘mission’ mode that will magically solve India’s technological problems. How will being on ‘mission’ mode do this?
For someone who is looking at this outside in, there are three options for India to partner to get jet engines for its future aircraft fleets. US, France and the UK (Russian engines are of inferior quality – so probably not an option). The US and UK have similar problems as the US can impose its will through UK. With France, Indians seem to balk at the price. Plus not sure if they have the capability to go up to 125KN thrust, which I think is the requirement with GE. You have not examined the UK and French options in your article – so I’m not sure of the reasons to favour GE.
There don’t seem to be good options for India to except to try and break the ‘trust’ logjam with the US. But to fall back on historical ‘trust’ issues and not do anything because we have an indigenous Kaveri program which can be put on ‘mission’ mode to solve the engine crisis, is also not an option. We need advanced fighter aircrafts soon!
Anyone can jump up and down and claim to see carrots and donkeys and insects, but but this issue is not an easy nut to crack! Only time will tell if going with GE was a bad decision.
The GE 414 engine issue was brought up because, as the press reported in the wake of the Doval-Sullivan and Jaishankar-Luland talks, this engine’s Indian production is on offer. And technology mission mode because it will cut through GOI’s bureaucratic maze in Delhi and mobilize and funnel the necessary financial and manpower resources into the project. Such functioning is what made for the speeded up design and development of Agni missiles.
Professor, this argument presumes that bureaucratic delays are the only reason jet engine technology cannot be made in India. I don’t have detailed engineering knowledge of jet engines, but from what I’ve read it’s no mean feat.
While Indian minds are among the best, India’s record in hardware development is inferior to its record in software. Jet engines, high end semiconductor chips, lithium batteries, etc. etc. etc. Missile and rocket technologies are the only examples of Indian hardware ingenuity, albeit with a substantial dose of Russian help.
It took 20-30 years of R&D to for every country that is a leader in Lithium batteries to be a market force – Japan, Korea, US, China. All the R&D for jet engines in India is with sub par public companies. Even if private players participate now, it will take a long time to develop a good one. A parallel process is essential therefore, to prevent further delays in aircraft development. Whether it should be with GE, Rolls Royce or Safran, can be debated.
Email from Ambassador Smita Purushottam, IFS (Retd), founding head of
SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator)
Sun, 5 Feb at 2:52 pm
Thanks Bharat, two areas that worry us is the cap on our nuclear power in light of renewed Chinese efforts to upgrade their arsenal (Pentagon report). China’s N forces have offensive potential against us and arent merely supposed to act as deterrent. One sincerely wishes one didnt have to promote nuclear weapons especially thermonuclear weapons, but since others threaten us with the same we dont have a choice but to develop a strong deterrent.
The second issue is Atmanirbharta. We agree that we must develop our own jet engine technology, which is however one of the most complex techs in the world.
What is the state of our engine technology? Bharat Forge has done work here. A partnership with the private sector may speed things up.
Email from Dr V Siddhartha, former Science Adviser to Raksha Mantri:
Sun, 5 Feb at 3:55 pm
Re: “… rather than standing firm on technical assistance for a time bound contract to get the indigenous Kaveri jet engine developed at the DRDO-GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) flying,…”
Only the French will be amenable to this, SUBJECT to the condition that we give SNECMA majority (but less than 75%) shareholding in an Indian
JV to service global markets – now that we are full members of the Wassenaar Arrangement. Agree.
True, SNECMA, Thales, have been hankering for such a deal. Not sure though how it helps India’s cause.
A picture speaks a thousand words. In Western culture a great deal of emphasis is laid on maintaining eye contact.
Look at the picture here, Indian NSA is meeting his American counterpart with a bowed down head with no eye contact.
By Email from Rear Admiral KR ‘Raja’ Menon (Retd), former ACNS (Ops):
Mon, 6 Feb at 4:50 pm
I think that it’s devastating that we had a chance to get a highly enriched uranium submarine propulsion reactor and we muffed it. If we have learnt anything from the Ukraine war it is that main battle tanks and surface warships and aircraft have become extremely vulnerable.
The future belongs to missile carrying nuclear propelled submarine. Our proposed SSNs would with their low enriched uranium cores lead us into a timid maritime strategy. We need highly enriched long endurance nuclear submarine to threaten China off Shanghai.
But as i said we have goofed it.
To say it very bluntly, the Americans’ are the only reason for the LAC standoff and the loss of the strategic Dapsang plains.It their threat of “sanctions” among other things that prevent us from testing and proving our capability to produce and deliver Megaton yield TN’s beyond any doubt.As you have mentioned a myriad times in your books, a megaton TN along with our rapidly improving delivery systems Will deter any thought of Chinese escalation at LAC and for that matter an intervention to save their loyal mongrel Rawalpindi whenever we choose to go into POK.
Consider the following:US being clearly deterred from intervening and even providing any meaningful military aid to Ukraine , “multiple” (not one) Chinese balloon incidents over the years and US reluctance to shoot them down even over its own airspace make one fact crystal clear-The US will NEVER EVER dare to kinetically combat anybody who has a large, proven stockpile of megaton TN’s and not to mention the awesome conventional capabilities which both china and Russia possess.Putin has proven yet again that megaton nukes are, were and will remain the final word in strategic deterrence.
US knows very well that allowing India to possess to megaton nukes means giving modi and his successors a “Putin style hunting license”.They know that we will go in and complete the unfinished task of dismantling their decomposing proxy at our western borders and thus breaking out of our strategic encirclement and rising as a true great power.Proven TN’s and Pakistan’s very limited missile arsenal along with state of the art Indian air defenses will remove any remote fear of Pakistani first-use and also a possible Chinese/American intervention.Moreover,the US does not want India to become self-sufficient in deterring china.
The GOI’s perception of American military and economic power are extremely exaggerated and overblown.The recent events involving Xi,Putin and Kim Jong-un tell a completely different reality.Putin has made a laughing stock of American sanctions.India, the world’s fifth largest economy(twice larger than Russia) can and MUST call the American bluff and proceed with megaton testing.This will provide us with a potent EMP option against China foreclosing any options for the PLA to overrun Arunachal and Ladakh.The US has essentially defaulted on their debt, that coupled up with economic situation of the European proxies means that sanctions against us are extremely unlikely.Agreeing to form a joint BRICS currency with a “veto” must also be done ASAP.
My response to questions re: the US contretemps over the Chinese spy balloon asked by the New York Times yesterday was not unlike your take on the incident. GOI should be worried. Will share the NYT story and the link once it is conveyed to me.
A lot of people in India talk as if China is raring to attack India and therefore India should take extreme measures and show all kinds of paranoia. China has bigger fish to fry in East Asia and is highly unlikely to attack India first. It is not a top strategic priority for it. It makes sense to test a TN weapon, but there is no hurry. A bigger priority would be to address conventional military gaps with China. And that is a much harder problem to solve.
The US will always check other powers to maintain its supremacy. That’s just great power politics. The question is how to build up India’s conventional military capability quickly with its R&D handicap. Perhaps focus on asymmetric weapon systems if tech transfer for large weapon systems becomes difficult (drones, UUVs, rocket force etc.). This is where partnership with Russia is still important – its willing to provide SSN/hypersonic technology etc. (though Adm Raja says we goofed in acquiring enriched uranium tech for SSNs – so India also has to overcome its kaddugiri of its past).
As for nuclear weapons, India is already increasing its arsenal. I’ve read report that it will eventually increase its nuclear stockpile to 500 warheads as China goes up to 1500. That’s around the ‘maximalist’ number you have proposed in the past professor.
Agree to the point that US seems to be creating a check on India from accessing cutting edge tech . India on its part relying too much on the hope that US will unlock its latest tech for us, will in turn impact progress on indigenous/alternate options.
What I find surprising though is that why France is holding back on Jet engine Tech transfer, knowing well on the kind of volume & long term opportunities India provides.
Why we are not looking at IL and AN design bureau:
They also have the technology, people and diplomatic power
Well, Rusia is out of political fashion.
Lest it is highjacked by China
What about now??? – Doval in Moscow?
Russia Warns Pak Over Ukraine ‘Betrayal’, After Kyiv Seeks Sanctions On India For Buying Russian Oil (Times Now)
The link in my previous post may not be working. This following should:
An excellent analysis;
Excerpts from the aforementioned;
Until now, it was not known who in the government “blinked first”.
A relevant fact presented in last month’s DGP’s conference is that India had lost the use of 26 of 65 patrolling points between Karakoram Pass and Demchok.
I am sure it must be our NSA, who in turn must have convinced Modi to vacate Kailash Heights.
Come on Modi toadies start the old broken record of Nehru surrendering to China. He at least fought a war with China rather than meekly surrendering and lying to the nation.
A western conspiracy is brewing against Modi for obvious reasons.Fortunately,the government is aware of it.
This report all but confirms what the famous Hindustan times security editor Shishir Gupta said here.
Shishir gupta’s article over here was actually heavily edited a day after it was originally published, it contained incendiary rhetoric against the west unlike anything seen before.It quoted a “senior cabinet minister” who talked about how the fact that MI6 support of Sikh separatists was an open secret and modi government was “preparing to combat” a tidal wave of western hit jobs before the elections next year.
I guess it’s time modi followed your suggestion here.https://bharatkarnad.com/2018/06/03/slumping-modi-needs-thermonuclear-tests/
Also, you saying that “Russia is out of political fashion” is just LOL.The last time I remember someone say that , it was Napoleon standing at the ghastly battlefield of Borodino in September 1812 and hitler standing exactly there 129 years later.Any war between two great powers is bound to prolonged.Even if you believe western propaganda and have casually followed the war, it’s very obvious that Russia is facing the entire military, Economic and intelligence potential of the combined west.In particular, they are facing the entire stockpiles of NATO ground forces and air defenses.Provision of trillion dollar toys like F-35’s is not possible as they require massive state of the art airfields with large repair depots, which will be shot up by Russian missile strikes.1980’s era ATACMS are will be easily shot down by Buk-M3 and S-350.This is , in fact, characteristic of all types of western gold-plated weapons,they are not designed to be used against anybody who can “shoot back”.The west is running critically low on ammunition and are being forced to beg countries like Pakistan,Colombia and Morocco to send weapons.US is emptying warehouses even from prized vassal states like Israel and South Korea.By this June , west’s ammo stocks would be completely exhausted to point of the proverbial last bullet.The so called “arsenal of democracy” is no more.This is evident from US navy secretary’s statement.
Russia’s inevitable, monumental triumph over Ukraine and the combined west, comparable to Berlin 1945 , is a writing on the wall.Besides,Putin has the nuclear prowess to carry out a massive EMP strikes against Europe following by leadership decapitaiton. The modi government has shown how hollow they consider the empty verbal promises and MoU’s signed recently in DC by sending Doval to have a protocol breaching and “nothing off the table” meeting with Putin and leaking it to the press.
Moreover, we must never expect the US to ever give the “permission” to us to proof-test our megaton TN’s for it’s a capability that they themselves don’t have anymore!The b83 bomb has been decommissioned by the Biden admin as they consider it “unfathomable to use weapons of such overwhelming and unnecessary destructive power in the 21st century”.They clearly want to use us as a Ukraine type proxy against china.They will never allow us to acquire a fail-safe deterrence against china as they want to incentivize the PLA to attack and then bog them down in an endless war.Also, It will deter any US intervention in the distant future.In my opinion, once we do the above we can strike a deal with the Chinese just like the Russian’s .It will allow us to end western hegemony for good with BRICS supranational currency with india-china and Russia having a veto on it.
Dear Dr Karnad
Do you think that the Modi government should unilaterally withdraw from the Indus Water Treaty ? What could be the implications for doing so ?
No, but use provisions in the treaty to modify dispute resolution methods as the Modi regime seems to want to do. Have long argued that trashing the treaty would be a precedent for China to divert the headwaters of the Indus in Tibet and, even more, directly the Brahmaputra River.
I just finished reading ‘Why India is not a great power (Yet). I’m now reading ‘Staggering Forward’ (Have finished 153 pages). The above article borrows from the chapter I just finished. I don’t trust America to share the ‘know why’ even if they agree to make GE-414 here, without which it amounts to nothing. So no point in confabulating with them. But don’t you think Rolls Royce is a better bet. I expect even them to try out their riskiest idea in India, but Indian deal is so lucrative with possibility of 400 engines (may be more) that they will transfer everything lock, stock and barrel. The deal is also a matter of survival for them.
Some years back, Rolls-Royce had offered to produce marine aircraft engines in India but, for whatever reasons, GOI did not act on it.