The US has reiterated a 2005 offer
to share hi-tech in defence with India, although this time it
appears to be more meaningful and realistic of India's futuristic
For instance, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has in a recent
report to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee suggested
that "should India indicate interest in the JSF, the United States
would be prepared to provide information on the JSF and its
requirements (infrastructure, security, etc.) to support India's
In fact, an indication in this perspective was given by Lockheed
Martin's Vice President for Business Development Orville Prins in
January 2010 when he told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in)
that a presentation about the JSF was made to the Indian Navy
after it expressed interest in the newer generation of aircraft
for its future carrier-based aircraft requirements. Although
weapon systems are made in the US by leading companies, they are
not authorized to even suggest sales unless there are blessings
from the State and Defense Departments.
However, there is perhaps not much hope for the JSF unless the
Indian government cancels its agreement with Russia for the
nascent Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) or decides to go
in for both the options, which sounds difficult if not unlikely.
The Russians have a tremendous weakness in electronics warfare
systems compared to both the Americans and Europeans, and the
FGFA's engines are also yet to be developed. At present, the
prototypes are using Sukhoi Su-30 engines.
Even with these, the cost for 148 single seat and 48 twin seater
FGFAs, now called Perspective Multirole Fighters (PMF), is
estimated to be a huge $35 billion.
In this context, it has to be noted that since 2005, when the US
had announced a sea change in its foreign policy to assist India
become a global power, India has bought or contracted some $10
billion worth of aircraft and systems from the US. Still, there
are many critical technologies that India needs and the US has
undeniably the best of them thanks to the billions it pours into
There are unmanned aircraft, many onboard systems and components
like EW systems, combat radars for aircraft, ships, tanks and land
vehicles from companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell,
Northrop Grumman, Boeing and United Technologies that could be
offered to India without strings.
Notably, irrespective of what is sold by the US to India, the
official mention of JSF for India, even within its own system, is
a powerful indicator of the extent to which the US administration
would go in the future. It is in fact a reiteration of the policy
adopted and declared by the previous George Bush administration.
For India, there is an opportunity, if the country chooses to go
forward in acquiring a quantum jump in technologies.
There is no way that New Delhi would give up its friendly ties
with Moscow, but then Russia has limitations. Moscow does not have
the sophistication in many systems, it is not able to ensure
near-future or lifetime support, and has the negative capability
to go back on its own words as it did in the case of aircraft
carrier Admiral Gorshkov.
Reports emanating from Moscow already indicate that India's 2009
proposal to develop a Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) in
cooperation with Russian expertise is also in jeopardy with the
Russians already demanding more money and less involvement.
India would need to balance friendship with Russia and the
latter's inability to support India's modernisation programmes.
Russia has to accede to its weaknesses and admit them in all
fairness. And thanks to the need to phase out the large
Soviet-vintage inventory in the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force,
India can still continue to buy some systems from Russia and some
highly sophisticated equipment from the west, the US included.
According to figures presented at a recent seminar on
acquisitions, former secretary (Defence Finance) Vinod Misra
projected spends of $235 billion over the next 10 years or so.
That is more than enough if India wants to keep everyone happy,
but the key has to be to build an edge by acquiring the best for
the Indian defenders. The Indian soldier has to have the edge even
in the best; it is his own life and the security of India that
warrant this. And the edge in techno-quality would be the only
guarantee to deter a war, or to be able to punish an aggressor
Let the armed forces decide what is the best, and so be it. If the
Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy think that an aircraft like
the JSF can give an edge and is also cost-effective, then the
government should give it serious consideration.
Gulshan Luthra is a senior defence
analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org