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US Eyes Defence Market:ANTONY FOR HOME PRODUCTION, by Radhakrishna Rao, 20 June 2008 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 20 June 2008

US Eyes Defence Market


By Radhakrishna Rao

Defence Minister A.K.Antony, while inaugurating the new building complex of the Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), stressed the need for self reliance in the design, development and manufacture of high precision avionics systems for the Indian Air Force, which is working out a strategy for modernization and augmentation on a massive scale.

Antony has repeatedly expressed his vehement opposition to the blind and wholesale import of defence hardware and advanced technological systems. In fact, he has made it clear that India will clinch a deal for defence hardware and associated technology only as an equal partner. His thesis is that India has technological expertise and an industrial base, resurgent enough to not only absorb and adopt advanced imported technologies, but also to indigenously design and develop state-of-the-art weapons and armaments.

‘High technology products need to be futuristic. Our over-dependence on foreign suppliers must reduce. We must develop our own systems indigenously. A tendency to depend on foreign suppliers may land the country and the armed forces in deep trouble in crucial times in the form of import restrictions, technology transfer denials or even undue and unjustifiable delay in the delivery of already contracted systems or components of critical nature” observed Antony. He did not leave anyone in doubt that he was referring to the US.

In fact, the American sanctions and technology embargo that came in the wake of India’s 1998 nuclear blasts had affected the developmental schedules of a number of projects of national importance including the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), developed by the Aeronautical Development Laboratory (ADA) and the Saras multi-role light transport aircraft, developed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bangalore.

Notwithstanding the growing bonhomie in Indo-US relations, many Indian industrial outfits, research institutions and scientific organizations continue to be under the US Entity List. Not surprisingly then, both in the civilian and defence sectors here, the US is not favored as a dependable and reliable partner for projects of critical nature.

As it is, way back in early 90s the US had coerced an economically emaciated and political unstable Russia into going back on its commitment of transferring the critical cryogenic engine technology to India. Their argument was that the transfer of technology, which is of dual use, constituted a clear-cut violation of the so-called Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Overcoming all the impediments, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has now successfully developed an indigenous cryogenic engine constitution the upper stage of the three-stage GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).

Similarly, DRDO has not forgotten how the US tried to coerce the Union Government into dropping the development programme of Agni range of surface-to-surface, nuclear capable missiles. Antony notes that “despite technology denials and restrictive export regimes, DRDO has been able to develop strategic systems and advanced missiles”.

Against such a backdrop, India’s defence establishment is fully aware of the implications of getting defence hardware and advanced armament systems from the US. For the denial of spares and refusal to service the hardware in the event of an embargo would mean a serious setback to the country’s defence preparedness. But then, Russia which has supplied India with a vast array of military equipment including combat aircraft and utility helicopters is fast eroding its Indian base. Indeed, the Indian military planners are losing patience with Russia for its failure to stick to the deadline and make available spares on time.

Peeved by the inordinate delay and a hefty price hike in respect of retrofitting the decommissioned aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, naval chief Admiral Suresh Mehta had sometime back questioned the logic of looking at Russia as a reliable and trusted military partner. Similarly, the Russian insistence on a massive increase in the price tag of Su-30 MKI multi-role combat aircraft, which currently constitutes the very backbone of the IAF, has not gone down well with the Indian defence establishment. It is here that the US is trying to step into the Indian defence scenario with robust optimism.

In this context, the statement made by the US defense secretary Robert Gates that military-to-military ties between the two countries would continue to be independent of the controversial Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, assumes significance. Of course, Indian Government’s lack of political will to go ahead with the deal has pushed it into a “slow and certain death.” Gates was forthright in his assertion, “We ask for no special treatment. We are pleased to have a place on the table. And we believe that in a fair competition, we have a good case to make”.

On its part, US defence and aerospace major Boeing estimates a US$10-15 billion defence market in India over the next one decade. “According to industry projections, there will be a need for around 1000 defence aircraft by 2020, while 70 per cent of the requirement will be filled by the existing orders for aircraft like Su-30s” says Deba Mohanty, a defence analyst with the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation.

Perhaps the biggest trump card of the American defence hardware and systems is their perceived superiority in terms of performance, efficiency, technology and state-of-the-art electronics and avionics systems in comparison to the Russian defence equipment. The latter’s biggest disadvantage lies in avionics and electronics, which form a major component of an aircraft.  

Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin, keen on grabbing the mega Indian order for the supply of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft to IAF have offered their most advanced fighter machines to India. The argument of Boeing is that F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that it has offered to India is already in service with the Australian Air Force. Not to be outdone, Lockheed Martin has sweetened its offer of making available F-16 IN Fighter Falcon by hinting at a possible future sale of F-35 JSF of perhaps F-22 combat aircraft if India goes in for F-16.

Boeing which has submitted a proposal for the supply of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft at an estimated cost of US$2-billion is awaiting the nod from defence ministry. The Boeing P-8A multi mission maritime aircraft built around a Boeing-737 aircraft is, however, known to be under its active consideration. In response to Indian request for proposal for 22 attack helicopters, Boeing is offering its AH-64 Apache Longbow.

Meanwhile, US aerospace and defence contractors are awaiting Indian request for proposal for the supply of around 200 light utility helicopters. These helicopters will replace the aging fleet of Cheeta and Chetaks in service with the IAF and the Indian army. Originally, India had planned the acquisition of 300-plus light utility helicopters. But with the Bangalore based aeronautical major HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) coming forward to develop a hundred plus light utility helicopters, the Indian defence ministry decided to go in for the import of around 200 such rotary wing machines. Is there need to shop elsewhere?  ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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