Chuck Hagel, the US Defence Secretary, is in India as a precursor to rekindling the Indo-US strategic relationship that lost its mojo recently due to the Khobragade episode. The US is keen to kick-start the relationship and sees an opportunity in Modi to take the relationship to a new level. Prime Minister Modi is due to visit the US shortly and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to India was to lay the foundation for that visit, with Chuck Hagel mandated to further consolidate it.
India finds itself as the rare Prima Donna where it’s simultaneously being wooed by the US, Japan and China, all for their own geo-political reasons and business opportunity. India sees itself as a regional power that follows its independent agenda and not under the ambit of any alliance. In pursuit of this ambition, India has been steadily modernizing its defence capability to reassert its dominance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as a responsible and stabilizing power in South Asia.
India goes dynamic on defence front
India has already achieved the world’s biggest importer of arms status, at the cost of our own industry. To Narendra Modi’s credit, he has been clear in his vision to create a military-industrial production base in India that will reduce the outflow of precious foreign exchange but also create manufacturing capability that will help India consolidate its regional power status. Towards the same, India is now opening up its defence R&D and production to the private sector and hopes that raising the FDI limit in the defence sector in India to 49% will attract international firms to establish joint research and co-development of latest weapons in India, covering all three theatres of land, sea and air.
The private sector has already entered the defence industry and will be seen increasingly as their range of equipment enters service. Given India’s long-pending need for 155 mm/52 Caliber Howitzer guns, the government set aside $1 billion for the development of these guns in India. Industrial groups like the Tata have already taken a lead and have developed the 155 mm Howitzer in technical collaboration with Denel of South Africa and is under the user-trial phase.
L&T is also working on the 155 mm Howitzer gun in collaboration with Samsung Techwin of South Korea. The Kalyani Group is in the process of developing their range of weapons that include self-propelled and towed 155 mm Howitzer gun. They have signed up with Elbit Systems of Israel for developing advanced weapon systems and mine-protected vehicles. The Kalyani Group has also tied up with SAAB of Sweden for manufacturing air defence systems. There are several other groups like Reliance Industries and Mahindras who are actively engaged in developing a wide range of military hardware.
But it is the US that is seeking the largest slice of the Indian defence market and is ready to offer joint development and manufacturing in India, in collaboration with the Indian industry. Chuck Hagel is here to talk shop and is ready to meet India’s immediate wish list.
India is in the process of raising the XVII Mountain Strike Corps that will be headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal, with the objective of building limited strike capability against China. To bolster this strike corps and other arms, India is looking for a range of cutting-edge military hardware that includes:
FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM): Deal size $ 2.5 billion.
India is planning to acquire 900 missile launchers along with 3,600 missiles for the army. These are infrared guided missiles that work on fire-and-forget mode. The Javelin, developed by Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, is a man-portable system and requires a two-man crew. The current range is a 3rd generation missile system and the US has offered to co-develop and co-produce the 4th generation version in India. The acquisition of these missiles will add real teeth to the forces operating in high altitude, as well as other terrains, as they can take out a tank and other mobile armoured targets, from a distance of 2 km.
M777 Ultra-Light Howitzer: Deal size $885 million
Manufactured by BAE Systems, India is planning to buy 145 guns from the US, under a direct government-to-government deal. The advantage of these Artillery guns are that they are light weight and can be air-lifted to any point of conflict, at short notice. While India did manage to use the Bofors 155 mm Howitzers in the Kargil conflict, it was not easy to move and manoeuvre the guns in mountain terrain. The M777 can offer cutting edge advantage in high altitude warfare and will add major punch to the forthcoming XVII Mountain Strike Corps.
Boeing Apache AH-64 Attack Helicopter: Deal size $ 1.4 billion (for initial 22)
Rated as the world’s best attack helicopter, the Indian army plans to acquire 39 Apache AH-64e version, while the Air Force has requisitioned 22 of the Apache AH-64D version. The Air Force will get the first batch of 22, with the Army receiving the remaining 39, subsequently. These highly capable multi-role attack helicopters can operate in high altitude and will be a replacement for the ageing Russian Mi-35 & Mi-25 gunships. There is a possibility that India may further increase the numbers, subject to a better price offered by the Americans.
Boeing CH-47 Chinook Heavy Airlift Helicopter: Deal size $ 1.1 billion
India plans to buy 15 CH-47s. The Chinook is a multi-mission heavy-lift transport helicopter that offers strategic airlift options to areas of conflict. These are capable of lifting the M777 Howitzers and land them safely in difficult terrain including high altitude. The CH-47 will be critical in providing logistic support to the ground forces.
Boeing P-8I Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft: Deal size $1 billion (for 4 aircraft)
The P-8I is a long range maritime aircraft built for carrying out anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance and surveillance and is excellent for naval intelligence and support operations. India has already acquired 4 aircrafts with 4 more to be delivered by 2015. India was the first country outside the US, to operate this aircraft and is playing a major role in keeping India’s edge in sea denial capability in the Indian Ocean Region.
The American secret
The US defence industry survives on global conflict and with the US global influence reducing, it needs India’s defence market to keep its own industry going. It’s a win-win situation for both countries; India needs hardware manufacturing and technology while the US needs a slice of the largest arms importer.
Chuck Hagel’s visit is not just to work out defence deals with India but more importantly consolidate the strategic relationship with India that will include Japan as a key alliance partner. This relationship assumes greater significance in the light of China’s rapid defence modernization and assertion of its power in the maritime sphere.
It remains to be seen how Team Narendra Modi is able to drive a hard bargain for India while consolidating its strategic relationship with the US. Hopefully, the Prime Minister’s forthcoming US visit will be a landmark one for both countries.