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On defense, US and India move closer

Secondother american India and India were no doubt pleased with the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Delhi on 5 June. When Mr Austin met his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh, he proposed a deal. Americans see it as their most generous offer since a controversial 2005 agreement on nuclear energy cooperation, despite India’s nuclear weapons programme. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to sign a series of defense deals during his state visit to the United States next week.

A pressing issue for the US and India is China’s growing assertiveness in what US strategists call the “Indo-Pacific” region. China’s growing navy has become more active in the Indian Ocean, and its armed forces have been fortifying India’s northern border (and clashing with Indian troops).Among Mr Austin’s most significant proposals is a so-called roadmap for defense industry cooperation, covering air combat, armored vehicles, munitions and intelligence surveillance (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).

India, the world’s largest arms importer, has long been eager to expand its indigenous defense industry. It’s not easy. The “Make in India” defense policy was launched eight years ago, followed by the “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) in 2020, when the government raised the maximum foreigner stake in defense joint ventures from 49% to 74%. %.

However, by early last year, foreign direct investment in the defense industry had reached just $380 million, against a target of $10 billion by 2025. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British think tank doubts a deal will be reached because most large foreign defense companies will be hesitant to technology transfer requests, not least because of concerns that their intellectual property could end up in Russian hands.

Another big lever that the Indian government is pulling is the allocation of about 75% of the Armed Forces capital budget to indigenous procurement. The country’s official defense acquisition arm recently allocated $8.5 billion to work with local manufacturers by the end of the decade, when it hopes new indigenous light tanks, artillery, missiles and helicopters will be operational. There are also four “active localization lists”, which prohibit the import of a total of 411 types of weapons and equipment, as well as thousands of parts and components. But it’s unclear whether India’s defense industry can offer suitable alternatives, or whether the country’s sometimes finicky military will accept them.

That’s why the US finds its proposal attractive.The most striking element may be the deal for India to produce under license from General Electric General Electric CompanyfBoeing’s 414 jet engine f-18 Super Hornet and Saab’s Gripen. The powerful turbofan engines will be powered by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (Hal), and will be used to power the HalThe Tejas Mk2 light fighter, still in prototype development (and possibly the ambitious Advanced Medium Fighter, a proposed fifth-generation fighter with stealth properties beyond radar).But to get the amount of technology transfer India wants General Electric Company Ask Congress to issue waivers and General Electric Company Moving on – two possible obstacles.

Mr Austin’s proposal is also likely to be popular in Delhi, as India’s confidence in its biggest arms supplier, Russia, has waned, especially after the invasion of Ukraine.according to Academy of SciencesIn the four years to 2022, Russia’s share of India’s arms imports fell from 64% to 45% (France was second with 29%; the US was only 11%), the think tank said.But the data comes from IISSThe military balance of India shows how dependent India is on Russia. More than 90 percent of its armored vehicles, 69 percent of its fighter jets, and 44 percent of its surface combatants and submarines are Russian-made or built under Russian license.

Russian weapons cost less than Western ones, Russia imposes fewer conditions on their use and fusses less about technology transfers. Russia’s largely state-controlled arms industry, however, places the Russian military, based in Ukraine, above its biggest customer.India is still awaiting delivery of two of the five small-400 surface-to-air missile system, which it agreed to pay Russia $5.4 billion in 2018. To make matters worse, more and more Indian fighter jets are grounded due to lack of spare parts. Back in March last year, an air force officer told parliament’s defense committee that a “significant number” of India’s 272 Su-30s, the country’s most powerful fighter jets, were out of service. From then on, the “sick list” will grow. Sanctions on Russia have also crippled the capabilities of its arms industry.

But reducing India’s dependence on Russia will take time. India will still need some technology from Russia, such as nuclear reactors for its submarines, which it cannot get elsewhere. A full reshape of India’s armed forces using Western and indigenous equipment is likely to take decades rather than years, even if India does not buy large new weapons systems from Russia.

India has also shown itself to be a difficult customer in the past. After France struck a deal in 2012 to sell Rafale fighter jets to India, it took almost nine years for the first aircraft to arrive in India.During that time, orders fell from 126 to 36, in part because original manufacturer Dassault was concerned Hal It is difficult to build complex aircraft under license. For years, every aspect of the deal has been mired in mutual accusations of cronyism and corruption. During a trip to France next month, Mr Modi is expected to sign a new deal for up to 50 Rafale fighter jets. However, it appears they will all be manufactured in France.

The road map proposed by Mr Austin puts the US and India on a path that may still be long and winding. But the existence of the map suggests that both sides see the relationship as crucial. And, Mr. Roy-Chaudhury added, the way forward is clear.

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