By Anurag Garg
China‘s assertion in South China Sea and Indian Ocean has brought together India and U.S., the otherwise not-so-significant defence collaborators till few years back.
Beyond the sale of P-8I, C-17, C-130J, Apache, Chinook and M777, the two countries have now signed the ‘Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement‘ (LEMOA), which would help both countries to enhance their operational scope and capabilities, also allowing economies and streamlined cooperation on an on-going basis, than case-by-case basis (for using facilities for re-fuelling, spares and supplies).
Signing this also marks a significant ideological and fundamental shift away from India’s long standing foreign policy of non-alignment, and away from very high dependence on Russia.
Beyond LEMOA, there are other agreements in discussion – ‘Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement‘ (CISMOA) and the ‘Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement’ on Geospatial Cooperation’ (BECA) – which would further strengthen the Indo-U.S. defence relations and active cooperation.
For U.S. – Growing closeness of Pakistan with China, Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups, and continued support to Pakistan reducing perceived success probability of U.S. firms in markets like India (F-16 case) – means that pressure is growing on the U.S. to shift away from its explicitly supportive position towards Pakistan.
U.S. recognises the growing importance of India geopolitically and as a defence equipment buyer, and may want to use legislation and effort to according India “NATO-like” nation status – currently given to countries like Israel, Japan, South Korea – to send credible signals of cooperation, and bridge the trust deficit that may have existed since decades. Such a move will also drive easier collaboration between Indo-US companies on contentious issues like technology transfer.
For India – China has always been a pain (1) geopolitically, with its explicit and implicit support to Pakistan, (2) strategically, with China aggressively building infrastructure on its side of the border with India and in the Indian Ocean / with India’s neighbours, and (3) diplomatically, as recently has held India’s attempts to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (Pakistan-based terror outfit) chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist at the United Nations.
India’s asset gap is still high if it has to fight a “two-front-collusive” war against Pakistan and China, which may take at least 5-10 years to bridge. In such a scenario, where Russia may have taken a more passive stance, more active partnership with the U.S. is in India’s interest to create strategic regional balance through this strengthening “alliance.” Further, given India’s ambition for greater role in global defence and security affairs leading to a permanent membership of UN Security Council, such a stance of alignment with multiple significant global powers (US and Russia) would help in the cause.
India may tread carefully so as not to alienate its long standing collaborators, not to compromise its core defence network, and not to be overly dependent on the U.S. and cease building / strengthening own core capabilities. In the same tone, Russia’s role as a key supplier and collaborator to India will stay significant, with licensed production of more Sukhoi aircraft, S-400 missile systems, Kamov helicopters and others in the pipeline.
The government has shown high diplomatic acumen, as earlier collaborating with U.S. and Russia was seen as a binary decision; successfully maintaining positive relations with both countries in present times is a great win for this government in national interest. It is important for the government to now leverage this momentum, and drive collaboration between Indian and U.S. companies under 100% FDI in A&D sector (click for details), which is a game-changer in improving Indian A&D sector’s reputation and significance globally – historically tarnished due to complex procurement process, agonisingly slow decision making, scrapped programs, multiple stakeholders with misaligned incentives.
(The writer is Aerospace and Defence Sector Leader at PwC’s Strategy& and views expressed are personal)