US-India military cooperation not harmonious

China Military Online
Zhang Tao

By Ge Chen and Yang Dingdu

BEIJING, Oct. 16 (ChinaMil) --US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during his visit to India in September that the US-India strategic defense partnership entered a new stage.

In June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his fifth visit to the US, which was also his first US trip after President Donald Trump took office. The goals of this visit mainly centered on the defense field.

On the surface, the US-India military cooperation has become stronger in recent years. However, the relationship is not always harmonious. The US covets India’s arms orders while India hopes that Uncle Sam can provide it with military technology. The two sides have different aims and therefore it is not real cooperation.

Cooperation heats up

The US regarded India as the "main defense partner" as early as 2016. After Trump took office, the US started considering further strengthening military ties with India and as a result, the defense ties between the two countries are getting closer.

India's Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a news conference held during Mattis’ visit that the India-US defense cooperation has increased significantly in recent years, which has become a key pillar of strategic partnership between the two countries. Mattis said that the US attaches importance to India's leadership in the Indian Ocean, seeking to establish a "flexible regional structure" with India.

Over the past decade, India has purchased a total of $15 billion in arms from the US. The two sides are expected to sign a new large fighter jet deal. US arms dealer Lockheed Martin plans to build a production line in India, provided that India buys about $15 billion worth of F16IN fighters.

Saab and Boeing are also competing for the Indian deal against Lockheed Martin. In order to meet the original intention of India to develop local military industry, these companies also promised to build fighter jet production line in India.

Another major objective of Mattis’ visit to India in September was to sell maritime Guardian UAV to India. According to previous media reports, the Indian Navy considered buying at least 22 maritime Guardian UAVs from the US.

Differences emerge

Is the US-India defense cooperation really close? Analysts believe that India values the military and technical cooperation with the US while the US attaches importance to its multiple interests in South Asia.

Senior military commentator Ma Yao believes that the US has geopolitical considerations to actively attract India. The US believes that the promotion of more direct bilateral ties between US and Indian armed forces is conducive to enhancing the interests of the US in South Asia. Based on this thinking, the US has strengthened military cooperation with India in recent years. The US is even willing to provide nuclear power technology of aircraft carrier and carrier-borne aircraft.

However, India has other concerns in such cooperation. The newly appointed Sitharaman said at the time of her swearing that her goal was to achieve the "Made in India" in the defense sector. "Made in India" is one of India's prime minister's main policy priorities in an effort to build fighter jets and submarines in India and to reduce dependence on foreign arms.

India's Zee news website said on September 20 that the US military companies are willing to set up production lines in India to win big deals. But these companies want India to make a firm guarantee to protect their patents.

Ma Yao believes that the delivery of military products is one thing; the transfer of technology patent is another matter. For the US, selling weapons and not transferring the relevant technology strengthens India's military dependence on the US. As a result, such dependence can provide the US with advantage and dominance in the US-India relations. If India gets enough military technology, then the status of the US will be weakened.

Constraints in cooperation

Ma Yao argues that providing arms to India is only a means of control and win for the US. The transfer of military technology to India will not help the US achieve this goal.

First, there is a conflict between the interests of both sides in the geopolitical field. The Indian Ocean is the axis of the world's maritime system, and India, with a strong navy, is the most powerful country on the Indian Ocean.

The goal of the Indian Navy is to shift from the current coastal defense and regional deterrence to the oceanic offensive strategy. Through the development of strategic nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, India aims to establish a reliable sea-based nuclear deterrent capability, and strive to build a balanced modern blue water navy with a reasonable structure and considerable deterrence.

Based on the control of the entire Indian Ocean, India hopes to gradually extend the strategic interests to the Gulf, the South China Sea and Africa's vast waters. This undoubtedly contradicts the geopolitical goals of today's world maritime hegemonic state, the US.

Second, there is a huge difference in the level of military industry development between India and the US. Arms require maintenance after some period of use. India's military manufacturing is relatively weak, and American equipment is complex and sophisticated. In terms of maintenance, India may be subject to the control of the US if it purchases American arms.


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