India all at sea over
US defense ties By Siddharth
NEW DELHI - In the wake of the
all-but-derailed India-United States civilian
nuclear deal, controversy is now beginning to dog
defense relations between the two countries.
Last week, the Indian Navy was severely
censured by the Comptroller and Auditor General
(CAG), an independent financial watchdog set up
under the aegis of the Indian constitution, over
the purchase of the 36-year-old warship USS
Trenton (to be re-christened the INS Jalashwa) for
Even though the value of
the deal is relatively small, it does not set a
healthy precedent, given the nascent stage of
Indo-US defense relations. The CAG works
independently of executive influence and its
findings are damning.
According to the
CAG, the warship was purchased
proper physical assessment, but with only a
"visual inspection" and an "over-reliance" on
information supplied by the US Navy.
Condemning the Landing Ship Dock (LSD)
purchase in a report tabled in Parliament, the CAG
said that the ship was only delivered in a "safe
to steam" condition and would require upgrades and
modifications, aspects which the navy kept hidden
from competent financial authority.
Jalashwa is the first-ever warship acquired by the
Indian navy from the US and the second-biggest
that India now possesses after the aircraft
carrier INS Viraat.
However, the US ship,
as it turns out, seems to be inadequate.
"The decision for the acquisition of the
warship does not appear to be prudent," the report
said, because the Trenton [Jalashwa] has already
outlived the major part of its service life before
being commissioned into the Indian navy.
"The ship was purchased in a hasty manner
without undertaking any physical assessment. By
Indian navy standards, the service life of an
aircraft carrier was 40 years and that of an LSD
Some of the CAG's findings have
been borne out in the time that the ship has been
in India's possession. A month ago, six Indian
navy sailors died aboard the Jalashwa following a
toxic gas leak. It was later revealed that these
classes of ships suffer this problem and three US
Navy sailors had been killed in a similar
In more alarming revelations,
the CAG says that New Delhi has signed restrictive
clauses assuring Washington that it would not
deploy the INS Jalashwa for offensive purposes and
will allow regular American inspection of the
Observers say this is against
established policy and bound to raise a political
stink and accusations of New Delhi buckling under
US pressure and possibly financial muscle.
"There is no way that you would purchase a
weapon system if you cannot use it for offensive
action," former Navy Chief Admiral (retired) Arun
Prakash, was quoted as saying this week in the
Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times.
Though it was during his tenure (2005-06)
that the deal was inked, Prakash said, "ultimately
it is not the navy chief or naval headquarters
that takes these decisions". Presumably, it is
therefore the responsibility of the federal
cabinet to read the fine print before inking such
The CAG indictment will also raise
the usual questions that have racked several
Indian defense deals relating to corruption and
A report this week in the Daily
News & Analysis newspaper quotes unnamed navy
sources as saying external pressure, especially
from the political establishment, including the
Prime Minister's Office, diplomats and the
Ministry of Defense, played a crucial role in the
decision to acquire the INS Jalashwa.
Indeed, the controversy over the warship
does not augur well for incipient Indo-US defense
relations, given many jingoistic voices against
the "imperialist US" in India.
anti-American left parties have asked the
government to order an investigation into the
purchase. "The government should order an inquiry
and come out with a statement in Parliament. It
should assure the country that such dubious
defense purchases will not be resorted to in the
future," read a statement from the left parties.
looking for defense deals India's
defense purchases are expected to be in the range
of $30 billion over the next four years, even as
the country embarks on a massive defense
New Delhi is keen
to diversify the stable of countries from which it
buys arms and wants to move away from
over-dependence on traditional supplier Russia,
which has increased its defense hardware exports
to China. Indian officials say that Washington is
looking to supply a quarter of India's military
hardware over the next decade.
Secretary Robert Gates visited India last month
and made it apparent that given India's status as
the US's strategic partner in the Asian region,
Washington was looking to expand
military-to-military relationships independent and
irrespective of the fate of the stalled civilian
Stung by Indian
political opposition to the nuclear pact, Gates
said that the US was not looking for "quick
results" or "big leaps forward", but rather a
steady expansion of the relationship, at a pace
comfortable to both the countries.
Gates and Indian Defense Minister A K Antony
expressed satisfaction in Indo-US defense ties
since the signing of the 2005 Defense Framework
Agreement that blueprints progress in the next 10
Indeed, unlike in the nuclear pact,
there has been progress on the defense front,
though the US is still far behind India's defense
purchases from Russia or Israel.
expressed happiness at India's decision to
purchase six C-130J Hercules military transport
aircraft from US juggernaut Lockheed Martin (LM)
and said the "deal marks a major policy change in
India's armament procurement".
the deal was culminated when New Delhi signed a
letter of offer and acceptance for India's
biggest-ever aircraft deal with the US. According
to Antony, the purchase is valued at nearly $1
billion and delivery of the aircraft is to be
completed by December 2011.
experts say the Hercules deal opens the
possibility of an Indo-US joint missile defense
system, which will be a significant engagement
should it work out. Gates said talks were at an
early stage involving a joint analysis of India's
India has been focusing on
indigenous development of its missile shield to
guard against perceived threats from Pakistan.
This has closed a potential multi-billion dollar
market to American manufacturers such as LM,
Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
Officials say another US biggie - Boeing
and its P-8i Poseidon long-range maritime
reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft - is the
frontrunner for the Indian navy's order for eight
maritime patrol aircraft. The $2 billion "direct
foreign military sale" contract should be inked
shortly. A high-level delegation from Boeing is
due to visit India by the end of March.
India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics
Limited is upbeat about export opportunities
following a deal with Boeing in December last
year, for the development of sub-systems for
Boeing fighter planes. Both LM and Boeing are
principal bidders in the estimated $11 billion
deal for India's procurement of 126 medium fighter
US defense firms are also
eyeing the 312 light helicopter tender worth $1
billion recently floated by India.
considering the number of arms deals in the works
and the evolving state of defense relations, the
CAG censure of the INS Jalashwa purchase is a
setback to the US-India strategic partnership.
Srivastava is a New Delhi-based