Closer Relations? Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, left, walks with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toward a welcome ceremony in New Delhi. (RAVEENDRAN/ / AFP)
NEW DELHI — Although no defense projects were established during US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent visit to India, US-Indo defense ties are developing and announcements on new initiatives are anticipated next month, Ministry of Defence officials and defense analysts said.
India and the US have been negotiating for a year about co-production of the Javelin anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). This would be the first joint US-India defense production at Indian facilities, and announcement of an agreement was expected during Hagel’s Aug. 7-9 visit, said defense analyst Mahindra Singh, retired Indian Army major general said.
An MoD official said the Javelin project remains under negotiation but the US has offered to transfer technology for the fourth generation of the Javelin ATGM, an upgrade from third-generation technology offered last year.
A diplomat at the US Embassy here confirmed that Washington offered to transfer fourth-generation technology for the co-production project.
Major announcements on defense projects, including co-production, are expected during the September visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, said defense analyst Venkataraman Mahalingam, retired Indian Army brigadier general.
“The US defense secretary’s visit was not intended to sign any agreement,” Mahalingam said. “The US has offered to co-produce and co-develop a number of military hardware systems, including Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, MH-60 Romeo multirole helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, mine-scattering systems, etc., under the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative [DTTI]. These proposals will need time to be evaluated. Agreements, if any, would be signed during Modi’s visit.”
Since a new government took charge in late May, there will be delays on reaching agreements on weapon buys or co-production, the MoD official said, but gave no details of projects being discussed.
India is not in a hurry to finalize the Javelin ATGM co-production and is insisting on technology transfer for all variants of the weapon, an Indian Army official said. India should seek co-production of the Javelin that has a range of up to 4.5 kilometers and not restrict itself to the 2.5-kilometer-range variant, he said — and adopt the latest improvements.
Talks between Hagel and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley set the DTTI rolling with the announcement of the Indian representative to the talks. The defense production secretary was named to represent India on DTTI, replacing the national security adviser, who had previously been the Indian representative.
The US has already named Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, as its DTTI representative.
“Actually, involvement of Jaitley in DTTI is a pretty hefty statement of Modi government’s intent to engage and consolidate relations at the highest levels,” said Bharat Karnad, research professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research.
“The [national security adviser] could not have been there for this one, on account of the rank issue,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies, Observer Research Foundation. “As I understand, it’s the defense secretary on the US side and therefore India’s representation would [have to include] the defense secretary as well.
“Second, India’s current [national security adviser] is also more of an expert on internal security and he could not have added much to the meeting in substance even if he were to represent India there,” he said.
Indo-US defense cooperation has been mainly based on purchase of weaponry but no co-production projects, Singh said.
India has bought weaponry worth more than $9 billion since US sanctions were lifted in 2001. In the last five years, the bulk of the orders, totaling over $6 billion, were conducted government to government.
India would prefer to develop defense ties that included more technology transfer and not simply the purchase of weapons, the MoD official said.
“India-US relations are in a limbo because the foundation blocks for ramped-up relations are missing, Karnad said. “Tech transfer is the big thing for New Delhi, for instance, but Washington is more interested in selling stuff, like any other vendor state.”
Other analysts said more time is needed for the new government to establish ties with Washington.
“At present, the main issue is establishing relationships and rebuilding contacts with the Modi government in New Delhi. The process has just begun and is likely to take some time before trust and mutually agreed processes are in place,” said defense analyst Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier general.
“There are also fundamental challenges in Indo-US defense ties given the gaps in technology, regulations, structure of defense industry, processes and so on, which I think not many on both sides are even aware of. So every time it appears to be a new learning experience,” he said.
Both countries agree there is great scope for improving defense relations.
“The state of the defense ties has reached nowhere close to its potential. The main stumbling blocks have so far been that the previous United Progressive Alliance government has been very uncertain about strategic ties with the US, especially its left-leaning Defence Minister A.K. Antony,” Rajagopalan said. ■