MMRCA deal will maintain airpower balance with Pak, China: Saurav Jha
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Last Updated: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 15:53
  
MMRCA deal will maintain airpower balance with Pak, China: Saurav JhaIndia, which shares borders with two extremely fragile governments, desperately needs a major military overhaul. In recent times, many defence analysts have recommended a revamp of the armed forces, but due to the lacklustre attitude of Indian politicians, the nation has been deprived of mobilisation in the desired area.

With India on the verge of signing its most ambitious defence deal worth USD 10.4 billion to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), it hopes to bring in firepower to tackle both Pakistan and China simultaneously.

Saurav Jha, an expert on energy and security affairs and the author of The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power, shared his views with Biplob Ghosal of Zeenews.com on the MMRCA deal as well on India’s military preparedness.

Biplob: How do you view India’s decision to eject the US and Russia from the race to secure a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) order for the Indian Air Force?
Saurav: India has asserted its strategic autonomy through this decision and demonstrated that it will choose an aircraft that best suits its needs. Simply put, India has to gain the most it can industrially from this deal while at the same time, procuring an aircraft that meets the needs of its Air Force, with the latter consideration carrying more weight. Europe seems to have the best value on offer with these considerations in mind. The two selected aircraft (Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon) have some commonality with the existing Indian Air Force Fleet (IAF) fleet; will come with full transfer of technology and very importantly, no restrictions on their use. None of these can be said with any degree of confidence for the American aircraft, given US’ history of sanctioning nations and denying source codes for radars to even close allies such as the United Kingdom. In fact this deal shows that while India will certainly buy American in the support category, it may just shy away from doing the same when it comes to key offensive assets, such as frontline combat aircrafts. Awarding the contract to Russia made no sense as India does not want to exacerbate its dependency on one supplier.

Biplob: Will this deal anyhow effect India’s diplomatic ties with the US and Russia?

Saurav: It should not, because India has shown more than enough reciprocity in its dealings with both these nations. Russia continues to be India’s primary supplier of military equipment and the two countries have a range of military co-development programs in place, some of which make the MMRCA deal pale in comparison. For instance the Indo-Russian initiative to develop a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) will see Indian investment to the tune of 35 billion dollars!

The US has already been awarded deals totalling almost 5 billion dollars in the recent past with contracts worth double that amount on the anvil. Interestingly all deals with the US have been government to government contracts under the aegis of Foreign Military Sales(FMS) program thereby obviating the need for a competitive tender. This in itself is a significant quid pro quo for US diplomatic support on issues such as helping India re-enter the world of nuclear trade. Moreover India’s position on the Iranian nuclear program and its continuing restraint vis-a-vis Pakistan are both favourable to American interests.
Saurav: India has asserted its strategic autonomy through this decision and demonstrated that it will choose an aircraft that best suits its needs. Simply put, India has to gain the most it can industrially from this deal while at the same time, procuring an aircraft that meets the needs of its Air Force, with the latter consideration carrying more weight. Europe seems to have the best value on offer with these considerations in mind. The two selected aircraft (Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon) have some commonality with the existing Indian Air Force Fleet (IAF) fleet; will come with full transfer of technology and very importantly, no restrictions on their use. None of these can be said with any degree of confidence for the American aircraft, given US’ history of sanctioning nations and denying source codes for radars to even close allies such as the United Kingdom. In fact this deal shows that while India will certainly buy American in the support category, it may just shy away from doing the same when it comes to key offensive assets, such as frontline combat aircrafts. Awarding the contract to Russia made no sense as India does not want to exacerbate its dependency on one supplier.

Biplob: Will this deal anyhow effect India’s diplomatic ties with the US and Russia?

Saurav: It should not, because India has shown more than enough reciprocity in its dealings with both these nations. Russia continues to be India’s primary supplier of military equipment and the two countries have a range of military co-development programs in place, some of which make the MMRCA deal pale in comparison. For instance the Indo-Russian initiative to develop a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) will see Indian investment to the tune of 35 billion dollars!

The US has already been awarded deals totalling almost 5 billion dollars in the recent past with contracts worth double that amount on the anvil. Interestingly all deals with the US have been government to government contracts under the aegis of Foreign Military Sales(FMS) program thereby obviating the need for a competitive tender. This in itself is a significant quid pro quo for US diplomatic support on issues such as helping India re-enter the world of nuclear trade. Moreover India’s position on the Iranian nuclear program and its continuing restraint vis-a-vis Pakistan are both favourable to American interests.
Biplob: How do you analyse India’s military preparedness amidst reports of Pakistan’s increasing nuke arsenal and Chinese influence in Pakistan occupied Kashmir?

Saurav: The quick induction of the MMRCA aircraft along with the completion of the Sukhoi-30 MKI build program will help in maintaining the airpower balance with India on one side and China and Pakistan on the other. However, Indian Army modernisation with regard to artillery firepower and aviation needs to be expedited if India has to face off both China and Pakistan simultaneously, especially in the mountains. Since no Army likes to fight a war defensively, there is a crying need to upgrade our border infrastructure quickly and create one or maybe two mountain strike corps that can take the war to the enemy. India’s three existing strike corps are meant for the desert plains and oriented towards Pakistan. The recent move to raise two mountain divisions armed with integral artillery and helicopter assets is welcome but many more such formations need to be put in place. Finally, surprising as it sounds, the Indian Navy must continue to be augmented, as one way to keep China restrained would be to control the sea lines of communication that bring its(China’s) energy supplies from the Middle East.

On the nuclear front, there are indications that Pakistan and possibly China are looking seriously at a tactical/battlefield nuclear war-fighting capability. Till now the Indian reaction to this has been asymmetric – India has invested in NBC equipment, network centric technology that will allow it to disperse forces, hardening of communications etc. However, if this worrying trend continues, I am afraid a re-evaluation of India’s nuclear posture may become necessary.


First Published: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 15:53


(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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