In Fact | Parrikar’s visit to the US: traversing the distance from symbolism to substancehttp://indianexpress.com/article/explai ... substance/
Both Indian and foreign defence suppliers are concerned about the announcements of deals and DAC approvals not resulting into firm contracts.
On his visit to the US in 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen John W Vessey that India was hesitant to buy arms from them because they came with too many strings and conditions attached. The US cuts off sales and supply of spares arbitrarily under its laws, negates past arms contracts, and refuses to cooperate in co-production ventures, Rajiv and Defence Minister P V Narasimha Rao told the Americans.
Last week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar would have discovered a very different US defence establishment — one which was willing to rephrase its laws to help India get the best defence technology, wanted more follow-up contracts on past contracts, and was pushing co-production ventures. And Ashton ‘Ash’ Carter must be among the most India-friendly US Secretaries of Defence ever.
As Deputy Secretary of Defence from October 2011 to December 2013, Carter personally pushed defence ties between the countries — noting, in November 2013, that “India (was) destined to be a security partner of the United States in the long run”. In an article in Foreign Policy, Carter underscored the change in mindset at the Pentagon on technology transfer to India from a “presumptive no” to a “presumptive yes”.
The 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) was his brainchild, and was initially called the “Carter Initiative”. It awoke from dormancy after Carter returned to the Pentagon early this year — India and the US are now working on six DTTI projects, and Parrikar has asked for highend transformative technologies for co-development.
During the DTTI Group’s fourth meeting at the Pentagon on November 17, the two sides committed to executing the project plans for two government-to-government pathfinder projects: the Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Sources (MEHPS) and the Next Generation Protective Ensemble (NGPE).
Two other projects are nearing finalisation: terms of reference for the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group are ready, and the second meeting of the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC) will be held in February 2016.
The fifth DTTI Group meeting is scheduled in Delhi in February, and Parrikar hopes to accelerate DTTI projects as part of his larger goal of pushing Make in India in defence. The Minister negotiated for technology transfers and defence manufacturing in India on visits to Russia and South Korea as well.
Accompanying the Minister to the US was a heavyweight private sector defence delegation, which interacted with American counterparts in the presence of senior defence officials from the two countries. Concrete outcomes were not expected from the first meeting, but the engagement holds significant potential for the future.Beyond the DTTI, the Americans have already approved BAE Systems’ proposal to move the assembly line of M-777 Howitzers to India. Negotiations are complete and the Letter of Agreement has been approved — only the final signatures of the two parties remain to be put.
Several issues, however, still need to be resolved before Make in India in defence takes off. The lack of clarity on a Make in India in defence policy, along with the delay in the release of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)2015, has not enthused foreign defence companies. They continue to be harassed by the labyrinthine bureaucracy in the Department of Defence Production in the Defence Ministry, which is seen as unresponsive or unsympathetic to their concerns.
Both Indian and foreign defence suppliers are concerned about the announcements of deals and DAC approvals not resulting into firm contracts. Barring the Chinook and Apache deal signed during Modi’s US visit in September, no major defence deal has been inked on Parrikar’s watch. Concerns are now being expressed over the resources available to his Ministry for new procurements, given the Finance Ministry’s keenness to adhere to the fiscal deficit target.
On his visit, Parrikar also encountered the US insistence that India sign the foundational agreements: Communications Inter-Operability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), LSA (Logistics Support Agreement), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA).
Carter’s team wanted to see progress here — the Pentagon believes that by not signing the agreements, India is shackling potential for defence and high-technology cooperation. Even during the recent Exercise Malabar, the two navies couldn’t cooperate fully — for e.g., exchange fuel from a tanker to a combatant — as no agreements exist.
The previous Defence Minister, A K Antony, believed that signing the agreements would grant the US military unencumbered access to Indian military installations and compromise sensitive data. Pentagon sources say that Parrikar has shown an open mind on signing the LSA, and they are hopeful the rest of the agreements will follow.
While Parrikar will be judged ultimately by substantive achievements of the India-US partnership, the symbolism around his visit was undeniable. It was the first visit by an Indian Defence Minister to the US after 2008 — the American counterpart has made six visits to India in that period. He was also the first Defence Minister to visit the US Pacific Command, and be hosted on a US aircraft firstname.lastname@example.org