New Delhi, Nov 1 (Calcutta Tube) As US President Barack Obama comes visiting India this week, expected on the platter are some multi-billion-dollar defence pacts to push bilateral military ties that have now started expanding rapidly after decades of mutual mistrust.
The biggest grab Washington is eyeing is a lucrative $10-billion project for 126 fighter bombers that the Indian Air Force plans to buy and for which two American companies — Boeing and Lockheed Martin — are among six contenders.
As India still keeps its options open on finalising the mother of all defence deals that has entered its last lap, sources told IANS the decks have been cleared for another mega contract of 10 C17 Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.
FMS is a government-to-government route of selling US defence equipment built by private manufacturers.
The value of the C17 Globemaster aircraft project has not been revealed as yet. But according to an official notification to the US Congress, the heavy transport planes are likely to come with a price tag of some $5.8 billion.
This overtakes the $2.1 billion contract for eight Boeing P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft inked last year.
The sources said the IAF is also likely to order four more P-8I aircraft and the contract is likely to be signed during the Obama visit. This contract would be worth around $1.1 billion.
Another project expected during the US president’s visit is the procurement of nearly 100 GE 414 engines built by the US giant GE Aviation to power India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
Defence cooperation between the US and India – which buys 70 percent of its military hardware from Russia – has seen rapid transformation over the years after four decades of mutual suspicion and mistrust during the Cold War era.
The visit of President Obama, who has described India as a ‘natural strategic’ partner, follows a series of high-level trips of US civil and military officials this year.
Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy who was here in August, like every visiting official from the Pentagon, expressed the desire to build on ‘growing’ strategic and defence partnership between the two countries ‘which includes defence trade, military-to-military training exercises and technology cooperation’.
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited Washington in September, underlining the importance the two countries give to strategic ties. However, the contention over pending key agreements that the US is pushing hard remains amid India’s reluctance.
The pacts that will ease high-tech defence exports to India have been in a limbo for long.
These are the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA).
Official sources said the finalisation of the three military agreements was unlikely as New Delhi was ‘unsure’ if signing the pact related to military logistics, technology safeguards and geospatial information would indeed benefit India because of some ‘misgivings’.
The sources in the South Block said India had ‘yet not’ changed its stance on the ‘restrictive’ Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and ‘intrusive’ Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA).
As per CISMOA, India will get access to high-end communications technology, but the armed forces do not see any benefit in procuring all communications equipment from a single platform, the sources said.
BECA would give US officials access to map- sensitive terrain. While mapping through a satellite is not a concern, the armed forces fear the pact will entitle US officials to use ground-based equipment to map out terrain.
The US has been arguing that in the absence of CISMOA and BECA, New Delhi would get less than cutting-edge electronics on the systems that it buys from the US, but armed forces have been rejecting the logic saying that it will not make any substantial difference to India’s operational capabilities.
There is another bone of contention — one which India has been highlighting for many years. Concern over expanding US military aid to Pakistan. The latest comes in the form of F-16 fighter jets, missiles, laser-guided bomb kits and surveillance drones that the US gave to Pakistan for its counter-insurgency operations against Taliban militants.
However, India has been voicing concern that Pakistan is misusing the aid for strengthening its military capabilities in the guise of fighting terrorism.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at email@example.com)