NEW DELHI: As New Delhi looks to translate its relationship with the US into badly needed high technology, the government is readying for meetings tomorrow with America’s key gatekeeper of military technology, the visiting assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, Andrew Shapiro.
High on New Delhi’s technology agenda is Washington’s reluctance to transfer military knowhow, of the kind needed for building the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile in India. The Army wants the Javelin for its ground forces, to enable two-man infantry teams to fire $40,000 missiles at $10 million enemy tanks 2,500 metres away and destroy them 95 per cent of the time. The Javelin sale, potentially a billion-dollar (Rs 5,000 crore) contract for US companies, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, has been blocked by Shapiro’s office, the department of political military affairs. The technology, it has been deemed, is too sensitive to transfer.
Shapiro’s 10-person team will be discussing this issue with India’s defence and foreign ministries (MoD and MEA), which regard overly-strict US licensing and export controls as key obstacles in “operationalising”, or obtaining tangible benefits from the growing strategic convergence between the US and India.
In clearing any transfer of high technology like the Javelin, Shapiro’s primary consideration is strategic: would technologically enabling India enhance long-term US strategic interests, without threatening America’s lead in military technology. Growing pressure from American senators and representatives complicates Shapiro’s decision-making. Fearing the declining US defence budget will cause job losses in their constituencies, American legislators are willing to back technology transfer to India, if that is what it takes to get orders from the world’s biggest buyer of foreign weaponry.
A likely example of this is the Global Hawk Block 30, a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which flies 36-hour unmanned missions to watch over vast expanses of territory or water. After the latest US defence budget cuts, the US Air Force has cancelled orders for Global Hawks, 13 of which have already been built or are close to completion by Northrop Grumman. The politically influential company, aided by US Congressmen in whose constituencies the UAV is built, are pressuring the US government to find alternative buyers. There are 13 Block 30 Global Hawks almost ready, which will now be mothballed.
Savvy bargaining by India could get it the Block 30 Global Hawk and perhaps even the technologies that go into it, believes Manohar Thyagaraj, an expert on US-India military relations.
“If India were to express interest, US Congressmen would mount pressure on Shapiro to share the technology. But India tends to engage only the US administration; it has put very little effort into building relationships on Capitol Hill. When Congress gets onto something, it acquires real momentum.New Delhi has not yet understood that engaging Congress is as important as engaging the administration,” says Thyagaraj.
India’s key technology player, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), has figured out the opportunity that lies in declining Western defence budgets. DRDO chief V K Saraswat declared during the Defexpo India 2012 defence exhibition on March 31, “Global economic recession is leading to capacities and capabilities in the international market that we can exploit. So, it will be an era of US and European agencies coming and trying to work with us and we will exploit this.”
Shapiro’s department of political military relations must okay all such joint ventures. US defence giant Raytheon is learnt to be keen on working with DRDO for developing technologies that can detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs that took a heavy toll of US lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that are now being used to deadly effect by Maoist insurgents in India. With US government funding, Raytheon has already developed a technology called SAVI (Seismic Accoustic Vibration Imaging), which uses acoustic reflections to detect buried IEDs. But budgetary cuts have dried up Raytheon’s funding, and it is looking towards India for partnership in developing SAVI into a deployable military system.
“The DRDO’s funding and scientific base is ideal for reviving such a project; and both sides would profit from selling the SAVI system to the Indian military and abroad. If India comes to the table with money, it would be well placed to negotiate access,” says a top DRDO official.
The dialogue on Monday will be followed by a succession of others. The US-India-Japan trilateral is scheduled for April 22 in Tokyo, followed by the US-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington in May and the US-India Homeland Security dialogue in June.