India and USA talk missile defense
NEW DELHI - Concerned about the threats emerging from Pakistan in the wake of the November terror attack in Mumbai and the predominant position of China, official sources told Asia Times Online that there had been considerable acceleration in India-US efforts to jointly build a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.
The pressure is being applied by the Indian armed forces, with New Delhi willing to play along, given it sees "non-state players and other loose cannons increasingly gaining ground in Pakistan".
Officials say that Indian intelligence agencies perceive a potent terror threat from the skies. The Indian Air Force has already put
the retrofitting of Sukhoi-30MKI combat jets with the aerial version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, jointly developed by India and Russia, on the fast track.
A missile shield would provide cover against inter-continental ballistic missiles. The system features radar and anti-missile missiles, or interceptors, which are able to destroy incoming and possibly nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, both of which Pakistan and China possess.
New Delhi feels that given the large number of such missiles in production, some could easily be acquired by rogue elements, especially in Pakistan, who could launch an unexpected attack.
Last year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited India and made it clear that, given India's status as the US's strategic partner in the Asian region, Washington was looking to expand military-to-military relationships, including the joint development of a missile shield.
It may be recalled that India has conducted "exo" and "endo" atmospheric missile interceptor tests in the past two years, with reports indicating the possibility of a third integrated interceptor missile test soon.
The first test took place in November 2006, when an "exo-atmospheric" hypersonic interceptor missile successfully destroyed an incoming missile at an altitude of about 40-50 kilometers, thus demonstrating a BMD capability similar to the Israeli Arrow-2 system.
The second test, similar to the American PAC-3 system, took place in December 2007, wherein an "endo-atmospheric" interceptor successfully took on an "enemy" missile at a 15km altitude.
The state-controlled apex defense outfit, the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), claimed that it would have Phase-I missiles as part of its BMD system, capable of neutralizing 2,000-km range missiles, ready for deployment by 2011 or 2012. Phase-II will look to thwart threats from missiles with ranges of up to 5,000 km.
However, given the DRDO's dubious achievements and delayed delivery record, observers agree that the involvement of international expertise would speed things up. The US has already provided Indian officials with access to DRDO computer simulations of at least two live missile launches, as per reliable sources.
In the context of emerging threats from Pakistan and the changing strategic relations between India and the US, New Delhi has been looking to Washington to hasten its military achievements and capabilities.
As part of its global efforts against terror, Washington has sought to involve India to strengthen its nuclear defense abilities and effectively neutralize threats from volatile states in the sub-continent, apart from the obvious business generated from such big collaborations.
One US Embassy official was recently quoted by a prominent British paper as saying, "India is a partner of ours, and we want to provide it with whatever it needs to protect itself. This fits into the overall strategic partnership we are building."
US defense firm Lockheed Martin, with offers of Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile systems, has already been talking to the DRDO. In February last year, Lockheed said "exploratory discussions" had taken place with New Delhi and industry representatives.
Israel and Russia have made similar presentations to India in the past, demonstrating their anti-tactical ballistic missile systems "S-300V" and "Arrow-2", respectively. The French are also in contention.
Meanwhile, the US has also been keen to implement a missile defense system in Europe, using Poland and the Czech Republic to counter perceived threats from Iran. The move has resulted in a diplomatic pow-wow between the US and Russia in recent months. In December, the US announced the successful testing of the missile defense system in Alaska.
The US's offer to help India with its own BMD is an extension of the already burgeoning defense relations between the two countries. Presently, the US lags well behind Russia, Israel and France in terms of supplying military hardware and software to India. However, this may change quickly.
While the focus usually rests on the India-US civilian nuclear deal as the one example of growing ties between the two countries, defense is an important arena progressing at even pace. Post-2005, India-US strategic relations moved beyond the Cold War sanctions on India, which at the time was seen to be aligned with the Soviet Union.
The 2005 Defense Framework Agreement signed between the two countries blueprints progress to be made in the next 10 years.
In the latest development, the decks have been cleared for an India-US defense deal of about US$2 billion for eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for the Indian navy.
The LRMR planes will replace its eight aging and fuel-guzzling Russian-origin Tupolev-142Ms, while the deal itself is the continuation of a slow but definite deepening of India-US defense relations in the past few years.
The LRMR deal supersedes last year's US$1-billion contract signed with the US for six C-130J "Super Hercules" aircraft for use by Indian special forces. This has opened a potential multi-billion dollar market to American manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
Apart from the C-130J deal, the US's only substantial (and comparatively less in value) arms deal with India in recent years has been the US$190 million contract of 2002 to supply 12 AN/TPQ-37 fire finder weapon-locating radars.
Last year, India purchased an amphibious transport vessel, the USS Trenton (re-christened Jalashwa), for nearly $50 million with six-UH-3H helicopters to operate alongside, costing another $49 million. The 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.
Now, the India-US defense relationship is only expected to deepen. Both Lockheed and Boeing are principal bidders in the estimated US$11 billion deal for India's procurement of 126 medium fighter jet aircraft, while incoming US president Barack Obama has shown every sign that he will continue the India-US entente.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist and WSN editor India. He can be reached at [email protected])