Not so long ago, American defence companies didn't want to deal with India. Now, it seems, they can't have enough.
In end-January 2007, American aerospace major Lockheed Martin created a flutter when it offered its state-of-the-art weapons system, the Aegis, to the Indian armed forces. The Aegis is the mainstay missile defence weapon for the US Navy, as also for a select few of its allies. Raytheon followed a day after, stating that advanced weapon systems from its inventory, such as the Patriot and its famed AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles) were on offer as well.
Lockheed Martin's offer also includes a possible mating of indigenously developed missile systems within the Aegis umbrella - including the BrahMos and the unnamed anti-ballistic missile defence system successfully tested by DRDO last year, dubbed as the Prithvi air defence exercise (PADE).
Joint production in India?
Boeing opened the throttle the day after with the announcement that it would offer the F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter, a cherished product for the US forces and the company, for joint production in India if Boeing bagged the IAF MRCA contract. This was startling, for the Hornet has never been produced outside the US.
Recent reports also suggest that the Indian Navy has invited Boeing to provide the P-8I multi-mission maritime reconnaissance aircraft for field trials. The P-8I, if found suitable, could replace the navy's fleet of Russian TU-142 Bear aircraft.
Boeing's programme manager for P-8A international programmes, Rick Buck, said last year that they had proposed "… a unique system that will enhance the capability of the Indian navy in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare," and that the "… the increased range, speed, radius of action and advanced combat power inherent in our 21st century solution will enable the Indian Navy to fully patrol and influence events in its entire operational region." Boeing is bringing a large-scale model of the aircraft for display at the aero show in Bangalore.
Intriguingly, both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon dropped hints, loud enough to be heard in Moscow and some other European capitals, that their offers would not face any bureaucratic hurdles.
Now there is the announcement that a high-powered US defence delegation, including William Cohen, former US defence secretary and Boeing's Thomas Pickering, a former US ambassador to India, would descend on Yelahanka, Bangalore, to showcase American technology and products.
The US-India Business Council (USIBC), which has organised the visit of the delegation, said through a release that this is the "… first time in history that the US government has approved such a large fleet of military aircraft for static and flying display in a major air show."
Analysts are saying that the broad hints dropped by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon this week would not have been possible without receiving informal clearance from the US state and defence departments. The offers to supply high technology defence items would also be in sync with the US government's stated agenda to help India become "a global power", and would constitute a part of the current US administration's efforts to draw India within its strategic ambit.
These announcements aren't a bolt from the blue, though. The last few years have witnessed a gradual upgrade in military relationships between the two. While military top brass have been dropping by at each others offices with increasing frequency, at a lower level US Rangers have been climbing rocky crags in Kargil along with their Indian army counterparts, while the US Marines have been exercising in Belgaum. An Indian army contingent has travelled to Hawaii to learn a thing or two about counter-insurgency warfare in urban areas.
But nothing adds more warmth to a global military relationship than some multi-billion dollar aircraft and missile system sales. We'll find out soon enough how warmly the Indian defence establishment embraces Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and Boeing.