India embraces US, Israeli
arms By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - There have always been
questions and nebulous areas in the way Indian
defense deals are struck.
seem to emphasize another turn, the influence that
US and Israeli companies are going to exercise in
India's current massive defense purchase exercise.
In what is being seen as an example of
Washington managing to exercise pressure over
Indian defense purchases, it appears that the
contract for the supply of 197 light helicopters
million is still wide open as
decisions already made have been put on hold.
The Ministry of Defense had said this year
that it had short-listed Europe's Eurocopter, a
consortium of French, German and Spanish
companies, for the deal, over its only contender,
the US-based Bell. At that time, a parliamentary
committee castigated the government for delays in
the helicopter contract, which pushed New Delhi
for a final decision.
However, this month,
Defense Minister A K Antony said "it is under
process" when asked about reports that the
Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec had gotten the nod
ahead of the Bell-407.
In May, US
officials and Bell are said to have met with
India's ambassador in Washington, Ronen Sen, to
express their reservations about the deal going to
Indeed, there is also a school
of thought emerging that most recent deals cleared
have either involved Israel or the United States.
Even with the US entry into India's
defense market, no decline in defense trade
between India and Israel is expected, as the US
generally sells complete major systems such as
fighter jets and naval ships, while Israel
specializes in compatible ancillaries.
India's importation of military hardware
and software will reach $30 billion within the
next five years, the Associated Chambers of
Commerce and Industry said recently.
India's cabinet committee on security,
under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, recently cleared a joint venture between
India and Israel for the co-production of
missiles. The medium-range surface-to-air missiles
with the capability of hitting aerial targets up
to 70 kilometers away will be produced at an
estimated total cost of Rs100 billion ($2.5
billion). Defense officials say the missile will
be an extended version of the Barak-8, also called
Barak NG, a naval missile under development.
India has also procured electronic warfare
systems and advanced radars from Israel.
Last year Israel supplied India with $1.6
billion worth of military equipment and is India's
second-largest defense supplier after Russia.
Sales are only going to rise. Indian defense
procurements from Israel in the period 2002-07
have touched the $5 billion mark. New Delhi
has been seeking Israel's help in anti-terrorism
In what could mark
a new level in Indo-Israeli defense cooperation, a
high-level Israeli military delegation was
recently reported to have been taken to
terror-infested Jammu and Kashmir to formulate
Army uses a wide array of surveillance devices,
most procured from Israel, that are being used
along the India-Pakistan border.
companies, meanwhile, are considered to be the
front-runners for the biggest single fighter
contract that India plans to sign for close to $10
This month, the Indian Air Force
(IAF) was given a demonstration of the prowess of
the next-generation US Joint Strike Fighter, the
F-35. Observers view this as an attempt to
buttress Lockheed Martin's F-16's chances of
winning the multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA)
Currently, the contenders for this
much-awaited deal are Boeing from the US, France's
Dassault Aviation, Eurofighter, Sweden's
Gripen-SAAB, and Russia's RSK MiG Corp.
The procurement of the MRCA is certain to
carry the Israeli mark as the coordinated grids
with the existing Sukhoi-30MKIs, Jaguars and MiGs
that the IAF flies have incorporated Israeli
India currently possesses no
US-made combat aircraft and flies British Jaguars,
French Mirages and Russian-made MiGs.
Indo-US relations have been on the upswing
with the expected culmination of the civil nuclear
deal in the near future. The Indian cabinet this
week cleared the final agreement drafted by
officials last week and now moves to the realm of
political discussions in both India and the US.
There have been unprecedented exchanges
between the two countries, much different from the
suspicions of the Cold War days. India and the US
signed a historic defense framework in June 2005
that for the first time included joint production
Recently the Indian Navy acquired
its first-ever US naval vessel, the landing-dock
ship USS Trenton, rechristened INS Jalashwa.
In May, India and the US finalized the
Hercules deal worth $1.059 billion, involving the
sale of C-130J transport planes. This is the
single largest Indian military purchase to date
from the United States and marked the first big
Indian entry of US arms.
New Delhi allowed
the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to
dock at Chennai early this month. It was the
largest vessel of its kind to be docked at an
The US has been keen to push
the nuclear deal to leverage possible defense
contracts with India. However, the country has
already been winning Indian purchases without the
pact being finalized.
Analysts say that
the increasing dependence on Israeli and US arms
may lead to the creation of a duopoly. They advise
that India should work out sustenance clauses in
deals with the two countries, while maintaining
the traditional partnerships with Russia.
But politics, strategy and slush funds
will continue to influence Indian defense deals.
In one recent instance, New Delhi decided
to cancel the 2001 bids for 400 Howitzer
155-millimeter and .52-caliber artillery guns
capable of firing nuclear warheads estimated to
cost $2 billion. The guns underwent field trials
for four years. New international tenders have
The cancellation means
rejection of bids by South African Denel, Soltem
from Israel and BAE-SWS (formerly known as the
Bofors gun) from Sweden, now owned by British
The real reason for not
inducting the preferred gun Bofors is the Congress
party-led government's fear of reviving past
skeletons, dating 20 years back. The late prime
minister Rajiv Gandhi was defeated in the 1989
general elections because of allegations of bribes
in an earlier Bofors deal. Though nothing was
proved, Rajiv's widow Sonia Gandhi is the Congress
party president and will likely want to keep some
distance from a fresh round of finger-pointing by
Reports suggest that
the Indian Army did approve the BAE-SWS systems
gun but Antony has insisted that the government
was acting on the recommendations of the army. He
said the armed forces were dissatisfied. Antony
said the new tenders would be invited as soon as
The tenders will reportedly
include more foreign armament firms such as the
French GIAT, Singapore Technologies, Samson from
South Korea, Arms Core from South Africa, and
Israeli Military Industries.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New