Political and Diplomatic Implications of an European MRCA winner

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by A.V., Apr 27, 2011.

  1. A.V.

    A.V. New Member

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    The most recent reports coming in shows that the two fighters shortlisted for the mrca finally is the eurofighter and rafale , apart form the aircrafts the MRCA is more a political and diplomatic gain.

    So what does the political and diplomatic implications be , will the US and good friend Russia take it sportingly or what can we expect in the near future ?

    This thread is just for political implications for technical debate we have the mrca winner thread.
     
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  3. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    MoD is diversifying its portfolio evenly among the major players... Boeing scored huge the last couple years, Rosboronexport gets 70% of deals, it is time for Dassault to get some of the pie.
     
  4. sayareakd

    sayareakd Moderator Moderator

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    I must say that shortlisting of two European companies for MRCA tender shows our independent foreign policy, we must keep in mind that Uncle's must have tried its level best to influence MRCA tender.
     
  5. A.V.

    A.V. New Member

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    I think the US is a bit pissed , they have send a not so welcome message to MOD asking the parameters and detailed report why their fighters had run out of contention
     
  6. Energon

    Energon DFI stars Stars and Ambassadors

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    India has been sourcing military equipment from Europe for quite some time. Yes this is a deal worth billions of dollars but it will not change anything big compared to many other deals ranging in the equal amounts such as nuclear, infrastructure etc.. In fact the latter make more of an impact.
     
  7. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    I am going to bump this thread as I think this is the most important aspect of the MMRCA deal. There have been many opinion pieces on the pros and cons of the decision so lets get down to it.

    India’s strategic planners aren’t thinking – Global Public Square - CNN.com Blogs
    Fareed Zakaria
    A number of you have asked me on Facebook and Twitter what I think of India’s recent decision not to buy $10 billion worth of American warplanes.

    I think it was a big mistake on India’s part. Despite what India says, defense purchases like this are about more than just planes. The Indian press has portrayed the country’s decision to buy European jets instead as a very clever strategy of hedging its bets. That’s nonsense.

    First of all, the idea that India’s foreign policy elite are able to think in a strategic and wise way on behalf of the country is highly questionable. These are the people who allied India steadfastly with the Soviet Union and Communist China up until the point that Chairman Mao decided to invade India.

    Then, they doubled down on the bet and backed the Soviet Union, including endorsing the invasions of Cambodia and then Afghanistan. They stood with the Soviet Union right up to the point that the Soviet Union collapsed and it became clear that New Delhi had gotten behind the wrong side in the Cold War.

    This same establishment is now telling us how clever they are being.

    The fundamental fact is India needs the United States more than the United States needs India. The U.S. economy is $15 trillion; I think it will survive the loss of this $10 billion deal!

    For the Indians, they lost a lot of goodwill at a crucial time. The Americans felt they had bent over backwards to do favors for India. The U.S. was the indispensable force in ending India’s nuclear apartheid, for example. Then India blew an opportunity to cement that positive relationship.

    India needs America. First of all, this is because India’s immediate security is entirely dependent on maintaining a stable relationship with Pakistan. India is unable to forge a stable relationship itself for all kinds of historical reasons. The Pakistan-Indian relationship is just so fraught.

    America is a very useful interlocutor because India’s and America’s interests in a place like Afghanistan are identical: stability and the absence of terror groups. India could gain a very powerful ally in America who also has enormous influence over Pakistan.

    Secondly, the rise of China is the big strategic problem for India over the next 25 years and once again the single most important outside power in the context of the rise of China is the United States. This is true from an economic, political and military point of view.

    So looking at that strategic landscape, you have to ask yourself, “What are Indian strategic planners thinking?” My guess is they’re not thinking. This is the scratching of old, non-aligned itches. Left wing ideology, which has been beaten back and exposed as bankrupt in the economic realm, has found some place in the political realm.

    Maybe it will take 20 years, but just as surely as India’s very clever strategy during the Cold War proved to be a profound mistake, people will look back on what India is doing right now and say that it had a chance to build an extraordinary and close relationship with the United States and it blew it.

    I hope that’s not what happens but the Indians certainly seem on course to do just that.

    Those are my thoughts. I invite you to share yours below, and to follow me
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2011
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  8. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Why the critics of India's combat jet deal are wrong
    Praveen Swami
    Less than six months ago, President Barack Obama described the growing relationship between his country and India as “one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century.” India's decision to pick European-made jets to equip its frontline combat jet fleet instead of United States-manufactured competitors has led more than a few to argue that the relationship has already hit a dead-end.

    Sadanand Dhume, writing in the journal of the American Enterprise Institute, has argued India has “rebuffed the US offer of a closer strategic partnership”; and Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has argued that New Delhi “settled for a plane, not a relationship.” Indian commentators seem to agree: Nitin Pai, the editor of the strategic journal Pragati, charged India with being “gratuitously generous” to Europe; and The Times of India's Chidanand Rajghatta said the decision had dealt the India-U.S. alliance “a significant blow.”

    These critics are thoughtful commentators who need to be taken seriously. They are also wrong.

    Like all other transactional dealings between states, arms purchases do indeed have strategic implications. India ought, for sound common sense reasons, to pursue a robust relationship with the United States. It is unclear, though, why the purchase of this particular weapons system ought to undermine the larger strategic relationship between India and the U.S.

    If countries like the United Kingdom and France can actually produce and operate combat jets not made by their key strategic partner, the U.S., there is no particular reason why India's decision to buy them ought be seen as a strategic affront. Earlier this year, India picked U.S.-made engines for its Tejas light combat aircraft over European competitors; its strategic relationship with Europe did not fall apart as a consequence. Nor will India and Russia end their enduring military relationship because the MiG31 lost the combat-jet dogfight.

    Secondly, the U.S. itself has pursued multiple strategic relationships that best serve its interests — and India, like every other nation state, ought do the same.

    Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, the U.S. has supplied Pakistan with a raft of military assets of no conceivable use other than against India — among them, eight P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, 32 F16 variants, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and anti-artillery radars. K. Alan Krondstadt's 2009 survey for the U.S. Congressional Research Service shows that much of this equipment was paid for through military assistance grants.

    American diplomats were made aware of Indian concerns. Back in 2004, Robert O. Blake, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in New Delhi, had warned in an Embassy cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks (23418:confidential, November 30, 2004), that sales of F-16s to Pakistan could “be a blow to those in the GOI [Government of India] who are trying to deepen our partnership.” Mr. Blake again warned, in a 2005 cable, of “universal opposition in India to the supply of sophisticated arms to Pakistan, with the F-16 aircraft symbolizing a US commitment to upgrading the Pakistani armed forces” [28592: confidential, March 11, 2005].

    But the administration of President George W. Bush made the argument that such grants would help Pakistan meet its “legitimate defence needs” – and claimed, more disingenuously, that the aircraft would be used for close air support in the war against jihadists.

    It would have been churlish for India, though, to make its relationship with the U.S. contingent on how Washington chose to engage Islamabad. It would be similarly churlish for the U.S. to insist that India ought not to exercise its right to buy the best equipment on offer for its money.

    The only question ought be: has India picked the right jet?
    No such thing as “the best thing”

    “Imagine,” says a senior Indian Air Force official, “being asked to pick between a top-end Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Ferrari. It would be plain stupid to think of one high-performance car as better than another. For example, one might have better acceleration; another greater range; a third better handling.”

    The IAF's Request for Proposals brought into contention the European multinational Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon, the French-made Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Grippen, the Russian MiG35, and the United States' F16IN and FA18.

    Each aircraft had distinct advantages: though it has a slow top speed compared with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F-16IN or the MiG 35, the Grippen had a better sustained turn capability; the Rafale did not manoeuvre well at high speed, but demonstrated outstanding instantaneous turn rates; the Lockheed Martin-produced F16IN and its Boeing rival, the FA18, had the best radar.

    The MiG35s, though from a stable that has been plagued by maintenance problems and untested in service in Russia, had genuine multi-role capabilities, would have cost just $45 million apiece, and come with generous transfer-of-technology provisions.

    Few are surprised that the Eurofighter appears to be leading the race: the aircraft has won the admiration of Indian pilots who have encountered it in exercises with their British counterparts. In November 2010, The Telegraph reported from London that Eurofighter was closing in on the multi-billion deal.

    Dr. Tellis noted, in a thorough scholarly appraisal, that the Typhoon “conformed most closely to the [IAF's] Request for Proposals, and in a purely technical sense, it arguably remains the most sophisticated airplane in the mix – at least in its fully mature configuration, which is still gestating.” Eurofighter advocates point, among other things, that it was the only one of the contenders to demonstrate some supercruise capabilities – which means it can achieve supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners, improving endurance and reducing its radar signature.

    Pilots told The Hindu they were also impressed with the aircraft's man-machine interface, which presents data streams from dozens of on-board and off-board sensors on a single screen

    But the aircraft, like its European counterparts and the MiG35, also had a significant weakness – the absence of active electronically scanned array radar, or Aesa. Aesa broadcasts signals across a band of frequencies, enabling the radar to at once be powerful and stealthy. Eurofighter variants due to come into service around 2015 will carry an Aesa radar system called Caesar – but the aircraft's competitors pointed out that the radar, unlike those on the F16 and FA18, is untested.

    Each U.S. contender was also a remarkable aircraft: although the F16 has been in service in 1979, the variant India was offered was state-of-the-art and proven in combat. Ramesh Phadke, a former Air Force pilot who serves as an analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, noted the F16 “is destined to be remembered as the best multi-role fighter ever.” The FA18, too, is combat tested, and won over its competitors in some spheres.

    In the end, the IAF short-listed the two frontrunners after putting the contenders through a raft of complex technical tests – tests that no one has yet claimed were skewed or rigged. Each firm has been provided a technical appraisal of why its offer was rejected, an appraisal it is free to dispute.

    New Delhi will now have to determine which of the two contenders it will choose – and finance could play a key role. The Eurofighter is likely to charge some $125 million apiece, which means the initial purchase of 126 jets will cost India $15.75 billion, and a likely final order of around 200 aircraft, $20 billion. The Rafale is likely to be pegged around $85 million apiece.

    Though the Grippen would have cost around the same as the Rafale, the F-16IN and FA-18 would have come at around $60 million each, and the MiG35 a relatively modest $45 million – though, given problems with its engine, the overall life-cycle costs of the Russian jet may not have been much lower than its U.S. competitors.

    It is imperative, though, that the decision is made fast. Back in 1969, the IAF determined that it needed 64 squadrons, 45 of them made up of combat aircraft, to defend the country. India's economic situation, however, meant it could build only 45 squadrons, 40 of them made up of combat jets. Even that meant it retained an almost 3:1 advantage over Pakistan through much of the 1980s.

    In the years since, though, the en bloc obsolescence of aircraft like the MiG21, MiG23 and MiG25 has meant the IAF's edge has blunted: Pakistan today has 22 squadrons of combat jets, or some 380, to India's 29 squadrons, or 630 fighters.

    Pakistan, moreover, has received new jets from the U.S., as well as the JF-17 from China, and a slew of advanced radar and missiles. Its air defence capabilities are due to be enhanced with four Swedish SAAB-2000 jets equipped with Erieye phased-array radar, and Y8 anti-electronic warfare platforms from China.

    Even as India's advantage over Pakistan diminishes, it has China to consider – not because a war is probable, or even plausible, but because militaries must plan and be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

    For much of its history, China's People's Liberation Army Air Force had a huge air inventory, numbering over 5,000 aircraft, but over three-fifths of this consisted of obsolete MiG19 second-generation fighters. But in recent years, China has moved towards becoming a genuine aerospace power: by 2020, the PLAAF will have more fourth-generation fighters than the entire IAF fleet.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government will almost certainly come under intense pressure to review its decision. It would do well to accept the expert assessment of those who understand its combat aviation needs the best – the women and men who may or may not, one day, have to fly them into danger.
     
  9. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    US says India missed a chance to deepen ties - Arab News

    WASHINGTON: India’s rejection of American bids for a multibillion dollar contract to supply fighter jets was a missed opportunity to deepen defense ties and share advanced technology, a senior US official said Friday.

    Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States was puzzled and “deeply disappointed” by the decision announced last month by India’s Defense Ministry.

    Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin were both bidding for a slice of the $11 billion Indian deal to supply 126 fighter jets. They were among four companies passed over for what Blake described as a “once-in-a generation” acquisition.

    German consortium Eurofighter Typhoon and the French company Dassault Aviation have been shortlisted for the contract.

    “We did see this as a strategic opportunity to really take our defense partnership to the next level and not only share advanced technology but to think in a concrete way about co-production and co-development,” Blake told a seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

    “It appears to have been a straightforward decision made by the Indian government. We have seen no evidence of any corruption. I think our companies are prepared to move on now and pursue what opportunities are out there.”

    The United States has looked to expand its ties with India as part of a broader push to benefit from growing economic opportunities in Asia and to build security alliances to counteract the rise of China. President Barack Obama visited India in November and heralded the relationship between the US and India, the world’s two largest democracies, as a “defining partnership” of the 21st century. He threw US support behind India’s ambition to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

    Blake said the US and India have made “undeniable strides” in building their relationship in the past decade. Trade has jumped, and cooperation is growing in areas such as clean energy, science and education. The US last year lifted export controls on the Defense Research and Development Organization which develops weapons and technology for India’s military.

    Blake said US firms have won almost $4 billion in defense sales in the past four years, and would hope to benefit from the $35 billion in defense acquisitions that India is planning in the next five years.

    But he said it remains hard for American exporters to gain access to Indian markets, especially in agricultural goods, and US firms also face restrictions in retail, insurance and defense.

    A strict Indian nuclear liability law has stymied US

    companies’ hopes of capitalizing on the Asian nation’s ambitious expansion of nuclear power generation, despite 2008 a civilian nuclear deal pushed by the Bush administration that ended three decades of atomic isolation for India, allowing it access to technology it had been denied since it conducted its first nuclear explosion in 1974.

    Blake said he expected the liability law to be among the wide range of issues to be discussed when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits India in July for a strategic dialogue.
     
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  10. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    From Europe -

    - Smooth terms on FTA?
    - Participation in nascent R&D trend?
    - Co-operation between ESA & ISRO?

    For US -

    - Never before desperation to sell even more weapons?
    - Pinch to review its South Asian policy?
    - Financial bargaining in future deals?

    ---

    Ironic as it sounds but a decade ago India was slapped with closing doors everywhere while sourcing weapons & technology but, these times will make them quarrel between each other to be the gallant seller.

    GOI realize it or not but this is The most favorable time for India's external diplomacy.

    And as absurd as it may appear but, political/industrial establishment in India has started gaining much much before IAF; for whom this entire circus is arranged.
     
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  11. Tolaha

    Tolaha Senior Member Senior Member

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    Areva is selling us those huge, expensive nuclear reactors... remember?

    Compared to France, relatively speaking, not much given to Germany or Spain! Until now, that is. :)
     
  12. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Critique:

    Sorry Mr. Zakaria. I would point out the false premises that you are basing some of your arguments on. Here's why:

    When exactly did India ally itself with PRC? Oh yeah, I see the possibility that you are referring to the NAM. Well, FYI, it is the Non-Aligned Movement, not a military alliance.

    So who was on the right side? NATO and/or the USA, who funded and helped build terrorist and mujahideen training camps in Pakistan, proclaimed Osama bin Laden as a patriot, freedom fighter and an ally, purchased small arms from Eastern Europe and supplied the guerrillas, dispatched loads of Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen. I am not sure I agree, or even understand, how you decide what is right and wrong!

    Choosing a fighter means making a choice based on technical parameters and not 'goodwill' [sic.].

    India's immediate security could gain a lot if the US quit giving billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan that have been used against India for the past several decades. Next time you visit India, make sure you include Patton-Nagar in your itinerary.

    The 'enormous influence over Pakistan' [sic.] has had zero influence on Pakistan's continued support and export of terrorism. For a change, you should try to figure out if that 'enormous influence over Pakistan' [sic.] has helped catch Osama bin Laden. This argument is complete drivel.

    I don't think you guessed it right. Indian strategic planners are thinking, and thinking hard. The planes the US offered are platforms that were introduced in the late 1970s. Yes they have been improved upon, but the US will not share their most advanced technologies. This decision was neither wrong, nor left, but absolutely right.

    I am glad India made this 'profound mistake' [sic.] and that is exactly why India did not face a joint invasion from Pakistan-US-PRC in 1971-72.
     
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  13. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    ^^

    Mr. Zakaria,

    I wonder if you have a response for this from cw2005:

     
  14. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    Congratulations Mr. Zakaria, you are now a certified American troll.
     
  15. amitkriit

    amitkriit Senior Member Senior Member

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    Does anybody know how did US-Japan war start in 1940s? It started with whole west putting economic sanction over Japan, and thus Japan could not import any vital commodity(Japan's industry was heavily dependent on import of raw materials) like iron ore and oil. Japan was forced to fight the war to acquire vital resources in Pacific and East Asia for survival. We are never taught this history because most of the media men have aligned themselves with Uncle Sam, Zakaria is no exception.

    Good to see that USA's interests can diverge from the interests of it's NATO allies.
     
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  16. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Just adding to pmaitra's well written critique, I would agree that Fareed's insinuation that India CHOSE to ally against the US and side with Soviets as a conscious decision is INCORRECT. It was the US that sided with Pakistan first with the CENTO and SEATO pacts and it was American provided tech. that was sued in wars against India. This is what moved India towards USSR even though Nehru had tried to maintain good relations with the US as well intially. Having said that, alongwith Fareed, there is along the entire American-Indian lobby from Tellis, Dhume as well some Indian commentators that have questioned the decision on the issue of building close co-opreation with the US. And although we might not agree with some of their points, they still do generally have the best interests of India at heart.

    My Take:
    I am not going to talk on the tech. aspect of the aircraft. I think before we even get the state of the art fighter jets, we need to do much more to improve our internal security and build the basic infrastructure to support hi tech industries including R&D, engineers and economies of scale. The Hornets would have been cheaper per unit and would have enabled in building up R&D and manufacturing centres that might in the future be able to produce state of the art hi-tech weapons.
    The money saved could have then been speant on our infantry, CRPF and police forces that are still abysmal. We don't even have a half decent riot squad. Anways, let leave this for now.

    There is no doubt that as time goes by and India reaches the no.2, India would become a threat to the US. But this is very mcuh into the long long term. In the short and medium term, we need really good relations with the US as well as strong defence This also means to realise some important geopolitical realities. Pakistan itself is not a threat to India. It is an irritant. The only way it can become a threat is if we end up having a WMD exchange due to war or otherwise OR Chinese involvment in propping up Pakistan. No other country in the world including the US will support Pakistan against India in any measurable sort of way.

    China is an emerging power and in many areas is far ahead of India including economy and technology. There is nothing wrong in admitting that. We are atleast a decade behind in most indicators and more worryingly China is increasing its influence mainly trade patterns in areas were India had maintained traditional dominance vis a vis China. Areas, including GCC/UAE, SAARC region and Africa. China is also a direct competitor to the US. It will be the first time that a country that has such enormous latent power as China is emerging and there is no doubt that it will challenge the US. It also means that it would want to lead and be the Asian hegemon. It is only natural given the current power ratios in Asia between major powers.

    India at present is the only direct competitor for China in the Asian continent. It has almost the same latent power as China, a more favourable geographic location and the advantage of being a democracy giving that extra political stability that China atpresent lacks. It would be in China's interest that India is bogged down with security competition with Pakistan and delays its close co-operation with the US.

    Bottomline is that this decision is done and over with. But India should not shy from buidling up a close partnerhisp with US. There is another possibility of India -given its latent power - emerging as a sucessor of US superpower through peaceful progression much like the UK to US sucession. This means partenring with US on geopolitical issues, building partnerhisp with US allies e.g. Western Europe and NATO, Turkey, Israel, GCC countries, Japan, Australia, S.Korea and Taiwan. This may also mean distancing ourselves atleast publicly from those countries that the US has problems with. This is not a big problem except with Iran which we can't ignore. And more importantly build that coalition to restrain China. Not just in the SAARC region or East Asia, but in other emerging areas like Africa in partnership with the US. Building relations with Egypt as part of the US objectives in Africa is an example ofthis.

    And what about the talk of Asian security architecture and peaceful co-operation. Its possible provided we give a timeline and clear set of guidelines to the Chinese. They have to respect the balance of power South of the Himalayas and not interfere. That means no nuclear reactors or advanced military technology to those countries, consulting with India on any major policy moves there and deferring to India any security requirements China might foresee in that region. If that doesn't happpen - and I don't expect it to happen - India will have to put in place a containment strategy for China and without US support its not possible.

    If China's growth slows or collapses due to internal strife and India becomes the global no.2, there might be a chance of US-India confrontation. But that is a long term issue, not a short term and medium term issue that is more vital. Besides, the G-2 concept that did'nt work out that well with the US-China relationship might work out with US-India.
     
  17. debasree

    debasree Regular Member

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    why india not choose american birds ,thera r many reasons,1> the american backing of pakistan mainly in millitary front,2 >previous defence deals show they r very hesitant to transfer technolodgy to us,even they selling their weapons without vital instruements 3 >avaliabillity of spare,the uncle sam has a tendency to use sanction a vital tool for fullfillment their wishes 4>the f-16 & f-18 r very outdated compare to rafel& eurofighter,its our countrys taxpayers money so govt has every right to make their decission after in favour of the best weapons.5> and the last not least why the yankees r crying so much they allready bagged three big deals ac-130 deal,possidon deal,globetotter deal,and many more will go to their bag like attack hellicopter,heavy lift helicopter,light weight guns,and the sweetner will be more globetotter* ac-130.so mr. farid jakaria before criticising india u shoud do urs homework better.
     
  18. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Why isn’t India buying American fighter jets? - By Daniel Twining | Shadow Government

    India has decided not to buy American F-16's or F/A-18's for the biggest defense tender in its history -- a pending $10 billion-plus contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. Following field trials, it has instead shortlisted the Rafale, made by France's Dassault, and the Typhoon, produced by a European consortium. Skeptics of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership view this as yet another Indian snub to the United States, arguing that the promise of Indo-American entente that was to follow from the historic civilian-nuclear agreement of 2008 has proven hollow.

    The charge is that American proponents of closer cooperation with India have oversold India's willingness or ability to partner with the United States. India is unreliable, they argue -- just look at its failure to enact liability legislation that would bring the 2008 civilian-nuclear agreement into force. For the skeptics, Indian foreign policy, rather than tilting in a more pro-American direction, remains guided by non-alignment and an abiding concern for strategic autonomy -- if not an outright hostility to the West, as in the bad old days of the Cold War.

    While India's decision is certainly disappointing, this analysis is flawed.

    First, the United States has a national interest in Indian strategic autonomy, because one important consequence of India's geopolitical ascent is the ballast it provides to an Asian order not subject to China's tutelage. From an American national interest perspective, it is vital that India retain strategic autonomy by growing its internal capabilities and building external partnerships with a range of important powers, including not just America but also Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and European states.

    The civilian-nuclear deal, advanced U.S. defense sales to India, technology-sharing, and other American initiatives have been designed to build Indian strength and promote Indian development. The mercantilistic idea that the ultimate goal of American policy towards India is creating a lucrative new market for American defense companies is not credible.

    Second, India is not non-aligned, whatever the results of one defense sale. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh submitted his government to a no-confidence vote in 2008 over the nuclear deal with the United States -- risking the leadership of his coalition over the future of relations with the United States. India's military exercises more with America's armed forces than with any other, and the United States has emerged as a leading arms supplier to India, successfully selling it reconnaissance aircraft, transport aircraft, naval vessels, and other advanced platforms. Beyond the United States, India's growing set of partnerships are almost entirely with states along the Indo-Pacific littoral that fear the consequences of overweening Chinese power and seek to balance it.

    India's double-digit annual defense budget increases, and India's emergence as the biggest arms importer in the world, aren't directed at the United States, or Europe, or Japan. They are undertaken with an eye on China first and Pakistan second. Yes, India's prime minister recently attended a BRICS summit -- though an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman made clear beforehand that India vests more importance in the IBSA grouping (India, Brazil, South Africa) of developing democracies -- because they share common values. The BRICS, of course, do not.

    Third, it's worth considering the perspective from New Delhi on the aircraft sale. Despite considerable progress in recent years, the United States historically has not been what Indians would call a reliable supplier of military hardware. To the contrary: It has sanctioned India repeatedly, cutting off sales of military platforms, technologies, and spare parts over several different periods. The United States has also provided advanced weaponry to India's key rivals (Pakistan since 1954, China during the 1980s).

    Politically, an Indian government under frequent attack for moving closer to Washington stands to benefit from insulating itself against yet more charges of favoritism towards America by buying U.S. fighters. Another core political objective in this context is to avoid the kind of corruption scandals that have marred previous Indian defense purchases (most notably the Bofors scandal of the 1980s, which brought down an Indian government). The possibility for a potential scandal over the role of American political pressure should India buy American is a charge the country's political masters are keen to avoid, and are now immune from.

    A related political factor is the what my Indian colleague Dhruva Jaishankar describes as "the general drift" in U.S.-India relations, which "has only increased both countries' resolve to drive harder bargains. This period of drift was initiated by the Obama administration's early missteps on China and Afghanistan and has persisted despite the president's visit to India last November as a consequence of political developments in both capitals." The underperformance of the bilateral relationship over the past two years is manifested in this week's decision on the aircraft tender.

    Fourth, India's decision not to shortlist the American combat aircraft was a technical determination. India's existing fleet of Russian and French aircraft, and the ground-based support infrastructure for air operations, are not closely compatible with American combat aircraft. Some argue that European fighter aircraft are more advanced than older models of U.S. combat aircraft; it is reported that several performed better in flight trials over Indian territory than their U.S. competitors. The American planes are certainly more expensive, which matters in a country with more poor people than in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Indian cabinet will make the ultimate political decision on the tender.

    This is no defense of India's decision. The great benefit of a U.S. company securing the contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft wasn't the immediate benefit of a lucrative defense sale. It was the establishment of a long-term supply and training relationship between the air forces of the world's biggest democracies, great powers with the capability to fundamentally shape security order in Asia over the coming century.

    India will do fine with its Rafales or Typhoons. But it's a shame longer-range, strategic considerations didn't seem to drive this decision. Leaders in Beijing and Islamabad are probably smiling, even as those of us in Washington are not.
     

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