`US, India should co-develop weapons tech`

The United States and India should consider co-developing weapons technology in light of US legislative restrictions on technology transfer, two experts have said.

Washington: The United States and India should consider co-developing weapons technology in light of US legislative restrictions on technology transfer, two experts have said.

In an interview given to the National Bureau of Asian Research, Stephen P Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution dealing with foreign policy and defense initiatives in the 21st century, and Sunil Dasgupta, a professor at the University of Maryland, said: "Most of India’s purchases are replacements for obsolete or broken equipment. However, a few acquisitions of American equipment are notable. The acquisition of a large troop carrier, the INS Jalashwa, formerly a US Marine assault vessel, can provide rapid sealift capacity for Indian forces, presumably allowing for intervention elsewhere in South Asia or the Indian Ocean region. The large Boeing airlifters replace obsolete Soviet aircraft and have greater capabilities."

It remains to be seen whether India will use its new assets to develop a true power-projection capacity. Unless India can start building aircraft carriers on its own, its recent purchase of a carrier and carrier-borne jets from Russia will be largely symbolic. The planned acquisition of a nuclear submarine with nuclear-tipped missiles raises weighty questions about Asian nuclear stability, but this purchase will not come to fruition for many years," they added.

They described the US-India relationship as a composite of several important interests.

They said the four key ones were: (1) vast social and cultural ties, symbolized by the large Indian-American community, (2) a new economic interdependence, (3) the development of strategic commonality, with both hedging against a rising China and fearful of a declining, but nuclear-armed, Pakistan, and (4) finally, the growth in military and defense ties.

However, both opined that none of these four elements of the relationship have developed at the same pace.

With the exceptions of post–nuclear test engagement and the civilian nuclear deal, the unofficial US-India relationship, including people-to-people and economic ties, has outpaced official ties between the two countries, they said.

They further said that the US-India strategic convergence will likely come in the long term, as there are serious short-term differences on Pakistan, China, climate change, energy security, global governance, and economic policy.

Describing defense cooperation as an important element to bridge long and short-term differences, both Cohen and Dasgupta were of the view that the nuclear deal has bought greater freedom for Washington on its Pakistan policy and could serve this role again as the United States tries to extricate itself from the region.

"For this to happen, both said Washington must hold out the large carrot of technology and weapons transfers, which are politically problematic for many reasons, specifically the restrictive domestic legislation on defense hardware.

They said one solution lies in the United States co-developing technology with India, as it does with Israel. Since new technology is not yet developed, it cannot be subjected to restrictive US laws.

Dr Cohen and Professor Dasgupta said India is hedging all around.

From New Delhi’s perspective, in matters of defense Washington is the best possible partner, but Washington is perceived as being unwilling to fulfill the role. India continues to buy Russian equipment due to prices and a misplaced sense of autonomy.

They predicted that there could be a major Indo-Russian rupture very soon, but added that India will buy what it really needs, such as fighter jets, from both Europeans and Russians, who are less likely than the United States to attach conditions to such purchases.

They also said that India will continue to buy from the United States items unrelated to immediate threats, such as power projection equipment etc.

"Now that India has the money to buy and build, it must decide on its priorities and with whom to partner. In this, the United States remains a contender, but not the obvious or automatic first choice," both said.

Recently India rejected offers from two US firms to compete for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract worth over 10 billion dollars. This was
followed by the resignation of US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer, which some thought was related to the bidding.

However, Cohen and Dasgupta said that Ambassador Roemer’s departure from New Delhi was unrelated to the MMRCA decision.

"The MMRCA decision is said to have been made on technical grounds, though we also know that “technical” superiority can mask other motivations. The Indian defense establishment is uneasy about using an American airplane on missions potentially involving combat with Pakistan, a formal US ally. There may also be US laws limiting the planes from carrying nuclear weapons. In the end, we believe, the decision was mostly political, as India intended to preserve supply reliability," they said.

"The United States continues to have a poor reputation as a military supplier. The current problems India is having with the Nuclear Suppliers Group have been attributed to US," they added.

On the issue of American technology-transfer restrictions on potential defense cooperation, both Cohen and Dasgupta said: "US legislation traditionally sees India as a technology risk and a problem state. On the Indian side, there are bloated expectations. The Indian attitude tends to be, “We have been neglected, and we are important; therefore, we have a claim to your technology to make up for past neglect.”

"Americans see India as a risky state that overemphasizes technology as a route to military modernization. This is seen in the case of India’s nuclear weapons, which serve as a powerful deterrent but are no substitute for a modern conventional military. Somewhere between these attitudes there is an opportunity for a realistic, hardheaded exchange of technology. The relationship is short of an alliance, but more than a friendship," they added.

They also said that the Indian state has failed to develop a timely, transparent, and legitimate military procurement system.

They claimed that the defense acquisition system in India is heavily bureaucratized, and this is a detriment to force capability and readiness.

"India’s political system obsesses over high profile items and neglects the increasing competency in the armed forces and defense production facilities. The introduction of private companies into the process may shake things up, although this is widely opposed for fear of corruption, the government’s inability to enforce contracts against private parties, and secrecy," both Cohen and Dasgupta said.

They, however, said that the United States should see India as a long-term strategic investment and perhaps a partner. India could assume more responsibility for stabilizing chaotic areas of the world.