India expands her 'hard power' capabilities as emerging world power: U.S. remains a key strategic partner

Posted in India | 08-Jul-07 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

"India will launch its first dedicated military satellite in August 2007."
"India will launch its first dedicated military satellite in August 2007."
India, on its way to world power status and global interests, is adding elements of “hard power” to its “soft power” capabilities. Strategic partnerships with USA, Japan, and Australia are reactions to the power projection of neighboring China in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. In this policy of containment India’s navy plays a vital role.

Space programs include commercial and military use. Taking military capabilities to a new level, New Delhi has said that the country will launch its first dedicated military satellite in August to give the country the wherewithal to monitor missile launches in its neighborhood. CARTOSAT 2A, the separate military reconnaissance satellite, will be launched on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket, by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Such a satellite has been talked about for quite some time now, with several dual use remote satellites already being used secretly for military purposes.

CARTOSAT 2A will boast higher spatial resolution, being loaded with cameras for advanced imagery, and will plug the demand gap in the armed forces. Two more advanced imaging satellites, with Israeli synthetic aperture radars, are scheduled to be launched next year to keep a round-the-clock eye on the region, especially airspace over India and China, through cloud and rain. They will work in conjunction with the Indian Air Force's (IAF) planned integrated air command, linking the AWACS radars mounted on fighter jets to Aerostat balloon-borne radars and low-level transportable radars with the military satellite.

Recently, India decided to acquire four more Israeli EL/M-2083 Aerostat radars as a follow-on order to the successful delivery of the two inducted from Israel in 2004-2005. The Indian Army has also recently taken delivery of all 12 Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) from the principal U.S. arms manufacturer Raytheon. India is also expecting delivery of the first batch of Israeli PHALCON AWACS radars. They will be mounted on Russian Ilyushin-76 heavy transport military aircraft by February 2008.

The USD 1.1 billion deal was signed in March 2004. There have been some delays due to technical integration issues. With the culmination of the Aerostat deal, India has purchased a spectrum of air defense and surveillance systems including 'Searcher-II" and "Heron" UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the advanced "Green Pine" fire-control radar. India has used the two Israeli Green Pine radars to develop its own 500 km long range tracking radar, which can detect missiles.

Aerostat plugs the “gaps” in the radar network that could be exploited by terrorist outfits like the Tamil Tigers, who recently mounted air strikes by using low-flying propeller aircraft in Sri Lanka. Currently, India’s central and peninsular areas are relatively devoid of medium-level and low-level radar coverage.

The radars are however subject to certain limitations like weather conditions and recovery periods that the military satellite should cover. With both China and Pakistan possessing nuclear-capable missiles that can strike India, a credible defense mechanism is perhaps required.

Transition In Space From Civil to Military: Nod from USA

Given the success of India’s civilian space program, the country has been looking to tap into expertise on security-related issues. The ISRO, unlike most other government-managed programs, has an otherwise impeccable record of progress; this despite international sanctions globally pushed by the U.S. that made the process mostly indigenous.

In April this year the ISRO carried out the first successful commercial launch of Agile, a foreign satellite, with the PSLV-C8. They earned an internationally competitive US $11 million for the launch. India is also looking to launch Russian satellites for a global navigational system and an Indonesian micro-satellite this year.

Across December and January, PSLV launched a study of technologies connected to the reusable launch vehicle (RLV). The RLV has the potential to attract more countries to launch their satellites from India because of cheaper costs. The annual commercial satellite launch market is estimated to be worth USD 2.5 billion, with Israel, Ukraine, Russia and China the main competitor countries. India is hoping to garner 2-3 % of the current market and work towards 20 %.

One critical element in the transition from civilian to military is the USA’s silence on the matter since Washington changed focus in the region to build bridges with India and counter China as an economic and military power. The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal may be bogged down in technical details for the moment, but there is no doubt that the high level interactions are having a spill over effect.

"In this policy of containment India's navy plays a vital role."
"In this policy of containment India's navy plays a vital role."
Today, New Delhi is looking at the U.S. Patriot advanced combat systems and the Arrow missile systems from Israel as part of its defense arsenal, with both countries more than willing to oblige. There was plenty of Bush-Manmohan bonhomie on display during the recent G-8 Summit in Germany. Given tight schedules and a tummy infection, the two leaders met one-to-one for a few minutes. Indian officials described the meeting as "positive."

Military satellite efforts were perhaps kick-started by Beijing’s confirmation, in January this year, that it had successfully shot down one of its own satellites with a missile. China thus launched itself into a select club that until then comprised only the U.S. and Russia, in so doing sparking talk about an arms race in space.

Missile Program

In April this year, India successfully test fired its home-grown Agni III intermediate range ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear payloads to much of Asia, including China. In May last year, during a period of frenzied negotiations on the nuclear deal with Washington, New Delhi postponed testing of Agni III. In July, the maiden test of Agni III failed.

Agni III has reportedly been ready for launch for three years, but the tests have been repeatedly postponed. In 2003, the test was deferred amid attempts by New Delhi and Pakistan to talk peace. In the past, Washington has been very suspicious about India's long-range ballistic missile program, and in 1994 persuaded it to suspend testing of the Agni missile after three test flights.

There are reports that suggest that India is now well positioned to embark on an inter-continental ballistic missile project and such a process might already be underway. India’s missile and space program are interlinked due to the similar technologies in both vehicles. The Agni is one of five missiles that have been developed by India. The others are of a much shorter-range.

Many experts have been saying for long that India’s nuclear deterrence is not up to the mark. They have been of the view that India’s restrained approach as a nuclear power is a geopolitical disadvantage.

Suspicions With China

Indeed, in strategic groupings, India and the U.S. are seen as partners to dilute the influence of China. Recent events only underline such assertions. Suspicions refuse to die as far as India and China are concerned. Declassified CIA documents released recently detail what the U.S. saw as Chinese deception and Indian naiveté leading to their 1962 war. This will only add to the mutual distrust over the border issues.

The overall image of China has turned negative, especially in Western Europe and India, as a new 47-country survey by the influential US-based PEW Research Center indicates. While negative sentiments about the U.S. have intensified across the world, Indians, as before, continue to view the country favorably.

India, the U.S., Japan, and Australia are looking to form a regional quadripartite arrangement with Tokyo taking the lead. China recently asked them not to move against the global trend, but to be “open and inclusive.’’

“China believes that to enhance mutual trust, expand cooperation for mutual benefit and win-win, be open and inclusive is the global trend,’’ said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gan, reacting to the first ever meeting in May of officials of New Delhi, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra in Manila on the sidelines of a South East Asian summit.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to allay such: “I have told Chinese premier Hu Jintao that there's no question of ganging up against China. This group isn't a military alliance. The focus is on disaster management and energy.’’

However, there are other issues as well. India has been particularly cheesed off by China’s aggressive worldwide scouting for energy sources, beating Indian firms in backyard countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. India had been looking to access the rich gas resources of its two neighbors until Beijing has played spoilsport. Though there has been some co-operation between Indian and Chinese companies in bidding for energy blocs, observers see these as one-off phenomenon. Indian energy companies have been competing with China in Syria, Russia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Turkey, and central Asian countries.

Recently, Taiwanese Presidential candidate and opposition leader, Ma Ying-jeou visited India in what was termed a private and unofficial visit.

"It is apparent that the U.S. and India stand together on strategic matters"
"It is apparent that the U.S. and India stand together on strategic matters"
Officials say that the visit was to foster closer economic relations irrespective of India’s diplomatic ties with Beijing. Ma met the all-powerful Congress party President Sonia Gandhi, top opposition leaders and business executives.

Some suggest that the Taiwanese politician’s visit was planned as a reaction to the recent issue over northeastern state Arunachal Pradesh (AP). China claimed that a senior Indian official from AP did not require a visa, as AP was a part of China. In the past, Beijing has consistently raised the “AP is part of China” issue whenever it has suited. Indian diplomats say that the Ma visit was arranged in a manner so as to not offend Beijing, while at the same time sending a message that India too can up the ante and assert herself. Beijing made its discomfort apparent. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the “relevant country should adhere to the 'One China' policy.’’

India has already been sounding out Japan as a regional partner. The two countries find common cause in their bid to be members of the UN Security Council. The first joint naval exercises between India, the U.S., and Japan were held in April last year in the Pacific Ocean, much to the chagrin of Beijing. Recently, the estimate for India’s biggest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor (DMIC), with Japan as the official partner, was doubled to USD 100 billion. The DMIC revision is ahead of discussions with a team from the Japanese government that is scheduled to visit early next month. The Japanese government and corporate sector is expected to provide up to USD 30 billion in loans and investments. It would be one of Japan's biggest financial contributions to a single foreign project of this nature.

U.S. Backs Indian Defense Deals

U.S. strategic support to India has had its benefits. The US has been keen to push the nuclear deal to leverage possible defense contracts with India. However, the country has been backing Indian purchases, without the pact being finalized. India and the U.S. signed a historic defense framework in June 2005 that for the first time included intentions for joint production of arms.

Recently, the Indian Navy acquired its first ever U.S. warship, USS Trenton It was re-christened as INS Jalashwa, which means river horse. INS Jalashwa is now the Indian Navy’s second biggest combat platform. India’s cabinet committee on security approved the acquisition in July 2006, for USD 48 million. In May this year, India and the U.S. finalized the Hercules deal worth USD 1.1 billion, involving the sale of C-130 J transport planes. This is the single largest Indian military purchase to date from the United States and marks the first big entry of US arms into India’s arsenal.

Prior to the Hercules deal the major Indo-US defense deals were much smaller. Recently, the Indian Army took delivery of 12 Weapon Locating Radars from US arms manufacturer Raytheon, at US $200 million. Another is the recent USD 48 million for the amphibious transport vessel USS Trenton, with the six UH-3H helicopters to operate from it costing another USD 39 million.

New Delhi allowed the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to dock at Chennai port in early July. This is not the first time that a ship of this nature has arrived at an Indian port, but New Delhi chose not to consult or inform the Left parties, who are seeing red over the issue.

"Strategic partnerships with USA, Japan and Australia are reactions to the power projection of neighboring China."

USS Nimitz is the largest vessel of its kind to be docked at an Indian port. Defense minister A K Antony has said that this is part of the ongoing Indo-U.S. defense cooperation. Left party leader Sitaram Yechury has, however, severely castigated the government as a stooge to Washington’s strategy to take on China and Iran. USS Nimitz has been actively involved in the Persian Gulf.

Others have raised fears about harmful effects due to possible nuclear radiation, though Washington has said U.S. nuclear powered ships have an outstanding safety record. New Delhi has said that radiation levels around the ship will be monitored. The last has not been heard about the issue. Meanwhile, the Indo-U.S. navies have been conducting regular exercises. The Malabar series of India-US exercises have also broadened in scope over the years.

U.S. companies will now be eyeing the 126 multi-role combat jets that India plans to purchase in the near future, in a deal that could be USD 10 billion. The US F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet are already being seen as favorites to win the contract. India's import of military hardware and software will reach USD 30 billion within the next five years, industry body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) recently said in a study titled ``Private Sector Participation in Defense.’’ In the past three years, India has spent as much as USD 10.5 billion, on radars (especially from Israel), submarines (from France), tanks (from Russia), helicopters (Europe) making it the largest arms importers in the developing world.

The one country likely to lose out the most US and Israeli firms is Russia, India’s Cold War partner, which still notches up an annual bill of USD 1.5 billion from India. No decline in defense trade between India and Israel is expected as US manufacturers generally sells complete major systems like fighter jets and naval ships, while Israel specializes in compatible ancillaries. Over a period, Israeli defense companies have established subsidiaries in the U.S. and have been complementing American industry

Indeed, India and US have enhanced co-operation in education, environment, energy and business. Recently, in a move that mixed diplomacy with education, India was made a provisional member of the Washington Accord, a 10-member apex global organization that determines standards of engineering education. There are differences, however, over opening of agriculture in multilateral world trade talks due to strong domestic political constituencies.

Nuclear deal bogged down

The delays in the nuclear pact are being seen in part as domestic political compulsions of the New Delhi government and some stringent, established U.S. rules regarding nuclear proliferation, rather than any structural issues. Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the need to push the nuclear deal through. ``I cannot tell you how much the world is watching to see if we can complete this. We need to get it done by the end of the year,’’ she said. In New Delhi, Manmohan said that ``one or two issues’’ needed to be resolved in the nuclear deal and hoped that it would be done soon.

The Indo-US deal is in a limbo as New Delhi has refused to accept any embargo on nuclear testing and fuel re-processing rights as impinging on sovereignty. The Congress-led government is at its weakest phase, since it assumed power in 2004 when the party has lost state elections in Punjab, Uttaranchal and all-important Uttar Pradesh. It will require some amount of political will to take on the criticisms from coalition partners, the left parties known for their pathological dislike of the US. The opposition BJP too will drum up the ``selling India’s sovereignty’’ refrain.

However, despite the problems, it is apparent that USA and India now stand together, on strategic matters, a fact that is recognized by both countries.