With the new administration in the US in place, India and the US are engaged at various levels and the focus is to deepen the Comprehensive Global Strategic partnership. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has already had a telephone conversation with the new Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin. Both reiterated their commitment to deepening towards defence cooperation between India and the US.
According to the official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Anurag Srivastava, “The introductory phone call between external affairs minister and his counterpart Anthony J Blinken will be scheduled soon, at a time convenient to both.”
India-US Defence Cooperation
The military trade between India and the US is predicted to cross $ 25 billion over the next few years.
In 2016, the US had designated India as a Major Defence Partner and in 2018 it had been elevated to Strategic Trade Authorization tier 1 status. This meant that India was now allowed to receive license-free access to an entire range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the US Department of Commerce.
Both India and the US share vision of free and open Indo-Pacific.
Agreements inked with the US
The Defence Trade which happens through the Foreign Military Sales route and Direct Commercial Sale route between the two countries has been expanding over the years. In almost 15 years the military trade between the two countries has touched around $20 billion.
Both sides have inked several agreements including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA) which was inked last year is now in place.
India will soon receive the MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, for around $2.8 billion and is coming through the FMS route. These helicopters will help the Indian Navy play a very critical role in the Indian Ocean where the Chinese Navy is increasing its presence.
India became the first non-treaty partner to be offered a Missile Technology Control Regime Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System – the Sea Guardian UAS manufactured by General Atomics. As has been reported by Financial Express Online, India is expected to buy 10+10+10= 30 of these for all the three services.
The drones for the three services will be getting different configurations because the payloads will vary for each user.
For the Indian Navy, these drones will help in monitoring the Indian Ocean and also strengthen surveillance of its coastal boundaries and will work in sync with the P-8i which is already in service. Each drone is going to be fully armed with sensors and weapons costing around $ 200 million.
The first request was made by the Indian side in 2016 for 22 Sea Guardians to the American company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and this was followed by a request by the Indian Air Force for 100 Predator C drones.
Role of an Indian American in Military Trade
Dr Vivek Lall, has played a very critical role in closing many big defence deals over the years, when he was heading various US aerospace giants. Today, he is the Chief Executive of General Atomics Global Corporation.
Besides spearheading many programmes, he has led teams in several campaigns including pan India strategic industrial tie-ups.
Some of the major Defence Deals Dr Lall was part of
Boeing Company’s P8I Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft worth $ 3 billion for the Indian Navy.
In a deal worth $ 200 million for 22 Anti-ship Harpoon missiles from Boeing.
For the Indian Air Force (IAF) AH-64E Apache Guardian Attack Helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook helicopters for in a deal for $ 5 billion.
10 C-17 Globe master III heavy-lift transport aircraft for $ 4 billion.
Negotiations for 30 Drones from General Atomics (deal yet to be signed) worth $ 2.8 billion was spearheaded by him.
Competition starts again
Two US aerospace majors are back pushing their fighters for both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.
The Lockheed Martin F-21 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15EX Eagle are going to be competing for the 114 as part of India’s future fighter aircraft acquisitions. The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the Ministry of Defence is still awaited for the procurement process for 114 fighters to take off.
According to experts, if any of the American platforms is selected for the services it would enhance India’s military capabilities, and help in increasing the India-US military interoperability, and also protect shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Days ahead of the Aero-India 2021, the US Boeing Company has received a license from the US government to offer its F-15EX fighter aircraft to the IAF.
Other players with whom Boeing is going to compete with is Sweden’s Gripen and France’s Rafale among others in a deal which is roughly around $ 18 billion. In 2019, Lockheed Martin pitched its F-21 fighter and as was reported earlier had offered to build the aircraft here locally in India in case it won the deal.
Briefing the media virtually, Ankur Kanaglekar, director, India Fighters Lead, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said that the discussions on the F-15EX have had had taken place earlier between the two governments.
What does receiving a license from the US government mean?
It means that the company has the marketing license and is now allowed to talk to the user — the IAF directly about the capability of the F-15EX.
Apache Helicopters for the Indian Army
According to Michael Koch, Vice-President, Boeing Defence, Space and Security, “Manufacturing of the six AH-64 Apache attack helicopters for the Army will be starting in India this year.”
Aero-structures, fuselages, secondary structures and vertical spar boxes for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter for the international customers is being produced by the Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited facility.
The IAF has received 22 AH-64 Apaches from Boeing and India later exercised the optional clause for six more for the Army. The deal for the Indian Army was inked in 2020. Though the helicopters for the Indian Army will be manufactured in India, they will go back to the US for outfitting with electronics and other systems.
P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft to Navy this year
The American company is expected to deliver three P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft to the Navy later this year. Amidst the ongoing standoff between India and China, the India Navy is exploiting the P-8Is at a higher rate than the US Navy.
In a deal signed in 2009 the Navy had initially procured eight P-8Is in a $2.2-billion. The aircraft are inducted in the 312A Naval Air Squadron based at Arakkonam. In 2016, the Navy exercised the optional clause for four more P-8Is in a deal worth over $1billion. The first of the four aircraft was delivered last October. And for the Indian Navy it has an AoN since 2019, to buy six more P-8I and the discussions are going on with the US government. These will come with extensive upgrades and encrypted communication systems.
The Boeing Company is in the process of setting up a 60,000-sq. ft. facility which will handle the training support and data handling centre at INS Rajali, Arakkonam. And there will be a secondary centre at the Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology (NIAT), Kochi.