Military & Aerospace

Indo-US Defence “Make in India” Aviation Initiative
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Issue Vol. 35.1 Jan-Mar 2020 | Date : 24 Feb , 2020

The discussions on the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005 actually started the India-US strategic cooperation and possibly of India leaning towards the USA. Because of years of military purchases from the erstwhile Soviet Union, later Russia, the process had its complexities. India needed high technology American military hardware. The US, in turn, needed a large market for arms and nuclear industry. The Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement was concluded in 2008, and the first Indo-US strategic dialogue took place in June 2010. The US then removed Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and some other related companies from its export control ‘Entity List’.

Immediately after India’s independence, the US had wooed India to join it on its mission to contain Communism. India had been reluctant to join any camp. In 1954, the US made Pakistan a Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) treaty ally, and India began cultivating strategic and military relations with the Soviet Union. In 1961, India became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement to remain equidistant in the Cold War power play between the US and the Soviet Union. The US supported Pakistan during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. In 1991, after the dissolution of Soviet Union, India adapted to the uni-polar world and developed closer ties with the US. India chose to leverage strategic autonomy to promote national interests. Also, the US needed India to counter the rising and somewhat assertive China in its Indo-Pacific strategy.

Once the US demonstrated accommodation to India’s core national interests and acknowledged outstanding concerns, it resulted in increase in bilateral trade and investment; cooperation on global security matters; support for inclusion of India in United Nations Security Council (UNSC); greater role in the World Bank and IMF and admission into multi-lateral export control regimes like Nuclear Suppliers Group, MTCR, Wassenar Arrangement and Australia Group. Post 2000, the US became more open to selling high-end military equipment to India.

In 1991, after the dissolution of Soviet Union, India  adapted to the uni-polar world and developed closer ties with the US…

In 2016, India and the US signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and India was declared a major defence partner of the US. In September 2018, India and the US signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), thus increasing inter-operability between two nation’s militaries. A 2019 Gallup Poll found that 72 percent of the Americans viewed India favourably. Bilateral trade in goods and services grew at an average annual rate of 7.59 percent from 2008 to 2018, doubling in value from $68.4 billion to $142.1 billion. India and the US are targeting to increase bilateral trade to $500 billion, and both the governments are working in “hiccups”. President Barrack Obama became the first US President to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2015. In the increasing cooperation in defence, military aviation has registered the fastest rate of growth.

Geo-strategic Appreciation

In spite of the July 12, 2016, international tribunal ruling against China in the South China Sea (SCS), a belligerent China refused to accept the ruling and claimed to usurp nearly 3.5 million square kilometres of mineral and oil rich sea and which accounts for nearly 12 percent of the world’s fishing catch. China has created seven new islets and in turn extended its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights over 90 percent of SCS and enhanced Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), both of which have serious security and economic implications. China has been investing in the Indian Ocean Region and using geo-political influence through military supplies, airfield and port construction and economic aid. India sees this as its encirclement. Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR), China is making infrastructure development and investments in countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. In the garb of enhancing regional connectivity, Chinese are pushing dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network. China supports Pakistan’s military-industrial-complex in a big way. All these have security implications for India and the US.

While the US remains well ahead in both Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and military spending, both Russia and China under strong leadership are gaining ground and already have significant influence in world affairs. Meanwhile, India is today the fastest growing large economy and among the top four countries in most economic and military indicators. European economies are slowing down. Oil and in turn the Arab world, are losing significance with solar and wind energy becoming cheaper alternatives. This would mean global re-alignments. India needs to thus re-adjust to the emerging global order.

While the US remains well ahead in both Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and military spending, both Russia and China under strong leadership are gaining ground…

Indo-US Military Relations

Indo-US military relations seek to advance shared interests of maintaining security and stability, defeating violent religious extremism and terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated materials as well as protecting free flow of commerce. India is a key player in US plans to create a stable balance of power in the larger Indo-Pacific region and to shore up its credibility in the region in the face of rising Chinese economic and military power. In June 2015, Ashton Carter became the first American Defense Secretary to visit an Indian military command and similarly, in December 2015, Manohar Parrikar became the first Indian Minister of Defence to visit the US Pacific Command. Indo-US 2+2 Ministerial dialogue has become a regular feature since its inaugural held on September 06, 2018, in New Delhi between the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries.

Indo-US Military Exercises

Indo-US military exercises have come a long way since Exercise ‘Shiksha’ of 1963 when the Indian Air Force (IAF) was exposed to modern air defence concepts and high performance air combat. The two armies have been conducting Exercise Yudh Abhyas. The navies of the US, India, and Japan participate in the annual Exercise ‘Malabar’. Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) covers the broad expanse of the Indo-Pacific. From 2004 onwards, the Cope India series of Indo-US air exercises began. State-of-the-art aircraft participate from both sides. Participation in Red Flag advanced air combat training exercises at the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and at the Eielson Airbase in Alaska gave the IAF exposure to NATO-like air environment.

American Fixed-Wing Aircraft

The IAF purchased six Lockheed C-130J-30s Super Hercules aircraft in early 2008 at a cost of over $1.2 billion for its Special Operations forces under the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. Seven more were ordered later. 11 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlift military transport aircraft were inducted next. The C-17 can carry 77.5 tonne as against the IL-76’s 50 tonne. The Boeing P-8I Poseidon is a modified Boeing 737-800 designed for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), ship interdiction roles and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT). An agreement was signed in January 2009, for eight P-8Is at a total cost of $2.1 billion. The contract for four additional P-8Is was signed in 2016. In November 2019, the Indian government approved the procurement of another six P-8Is. In 2009, the IAF inducted three specially equipped Boeing 737-7HI Business Jets (BBJ) for VVIP travel. Two custom-made B-777s have also been procured to replace the older Air India B-747 jumbo jets for VVIP use. To be flown by the IAF, they will be operational in July 2020. The US has agreed to sell two state-of-the-art missile defence systems, the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCAM) and Self-Protection Suites (SPS), for an estimated cost of $190 million, to enhance the security of the VVIP planes.

American Rotary Wing Aircraft

22 Boeing Apache Longbow AH-64E have begun replacing the IAF’s older Russian Mi-25/35s attack helicopters. The $1.4-billion deal was also through the FMS route. Eight aircraft were inducted to form the first squadron at Pathankot in September 2019. All 22 aircraft will be in by end 2020. In April 2013, the Government of India decided that henceforth, the Indian Army will also have its own fleet of Attack Helicopters. Additional six Apache helicopters are planned for the Indian Army. 15 Boeing CH-47 D/F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters have been purchased in a $1 billion deal. They were formally inducted into the IAF at Chandigarh airbase in March 2019. The second airbase will be in the North East. All aircraft will be delivered by 2020.

Lockheed is actively supporting a Digital India, Skill Development Start-up India and ‘Make-in-India’ programmes…

Boeing Presence and Make-in-India

Boeing’s presence in India dates back over 75 years when Tata Airlines operated a Boeing DC-3 aircraft. Since then, Boeing has been a major player in India’s commercial aviation sector. Boeing’s military aviation connect in India began in the 1940s, when the IAF acquired the T-6 Texan and the C-47 transport, a military variant of the DC-3. With the C-17 Globemaster III and the Indian Navy’s P-8I maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft, Boeing has become a great partner in India’s military mission-readiness. The F-18 Super Hornet is vying for the contract of the IAF’s 114 fighter programme and the Indian Navy’s 57 carrier aircraft. Boeing has set up a Research and Technology Centre in Bangalore.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III will be with ‘Make in India’ long-term partnership commitment. The Block III offers affordable stealth and extensive capability upgrades that include enhanced network capacity, longer range, better stealth performance, an advanced cockpit system and new sensors, with the life of the aircraft extended from 6,000 to 10,000 hours. A public-private partnership brings together Boeing, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Mahindra’s global scale, manufacturing and supply chain expertise. HAL has been the single-source producer of 757 over-wing exit doors. HAL has also manufactured the 777 up-lock boxes, F/A-18 gun bay doors, F/A-18 wire harnesses, P-8I weapons bay doors and P-8I identification friend-or-foe transponders. BEL is also on contract to provide flight deck cockpit panels for the F/A-18. HAL recently delivered the 150th gun bay door for the F/A-18.

Boeing has invested in engineering centres at Bengaluru and Chennai with a talented pool of 3,000 engineers. Boeing’s joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) is for aerospace and defence manufacturing including Unmanned Aerial Systems. The Joint Venture (JV) will manufacture aero-structures for aircraft and collaborate on integrated systems development opportunities in India. TASL is already manufacturing aero-structures for the CH-47 Chinook and Apache helicopters for the global market.

In September 2014, Dynamatic Technologies (DTL) and Boeing inaugurated a plant to manufacture critical parts for Chinook helicopters. Dynamatic recently delivered 100 ramp and pylons for the Chinook. DTL has been working on the P-8I since 2010. DTL and Tata Advanced Materials Limited (TAML) have already delivered P-8I power and mission equipment cabinets and TAML is making auxiliary power unit door fairings and composite tail-cones for the P-8I. Boeing created a facility with TAL Manufacturing Solutions Ltd to manufacture floor beams for the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. TAL also makes ground support equipment for the C-17. Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has delivered the Indian-designed Data Link II for the P-8I. Data Link II is a communications system that enables exchange of tactical data and messages among the Indian Navy aircraft, ships and shore establishments. BEL has also delivered the Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) interrogator. Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL) has provided the speech secrecy systems for the P-8I. Hyderabad-based Avantel Ltd. has delivered the mobile satellite systems for P-8I. Hyderabad-based Cyient (formerly Infotech) has supported a number of critical design-engineering projects for Boeing airplanes and currently, provides design and stress support on the 747-8 Freighter and the 787-8 and 787-9 airliners.

Bilateral defence trade, essentially zero in 2008, would have reached an estimated $18 billion by end 2019…

Lockheed Martin – Big in India

Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms manufacturer, with a global order book of over $47 billion (FY 2017-2018), is looking for a “game-changing” partnership in India. Its domain includes ATC systems, ballistic missiles, Precision Guided Munitions, Directed Energy Weapons, littoral combat ships, armoured fighting vehicles, combat and support aircraft, robotics, radars, electronic warfare, satellites, space launch vehicles, among others. They have been in India for more than 25 years. Lockheed Martin is the pre-eminent designer, developer and manufacturer of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35. They have a joint venture company with TASL where airframe components for the C-130J airlifter and the S-92 helicopter are manufactured in India. Since production began in 2010, TASL has delivered 120 cabins fully Made in India. Today, production of more than 5,000 precision components that compose each S-92 cabin, is 100 percent indigenous to India. All C-130Js delivered to customers around the world have major aero-structure components from India.

Lockheed is actively supporting a Digital India, Skill Development Start-up India and ‘Make-in-India’ programmes. “We have currently integrated over 70 Indian suppliers including Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) into our global supply chain,” said Dr Vivek Lall, Vice President Aeronautics and Business Development. “Our partnership with the Indian industry and proposals for both, the F-21 for the IAF and the S-76D multi-role helicopter for the Indian Navy will put India at the epicenter of the world’s largest defence ecosystem and deliver unmatched sustainment and export opportunities” he added. 2,250 F-16 are still flying globally. TASL has been chosen to produce the F-16s in India. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has begun building F-16 wings, and will start exporting from the facility in Hyderabad in 2020. In July 2019, US-based Lockheed Martin signed MoUs with Indian startups such as Terero Mobility, Sastra Robotics, and NoPo Nanotechnologies to integrate with its supply chain and boost India’s aerospace and defence industry.

The US has approved the sale of 24 Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky multi-role MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters to India at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. These platforms will boost the Indian Navy’s anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare operations capability. Lockheed has been showcasing several other systems to the Indian Armed Forces. Lockheed Martin is a leader in UAV technologies, ranging from micro-UAVs such as the Stalker or Desert Hawk III to larger platforms like the Reaper. They have been actively pursuing UAV opportunities for both the military and civil markets in India. The Super Hercules is also part of India’s C-130J Roll-On/Roll-Off University Design Challenge. Through this initiative, Lockheed Martin provides research grants for teams from Indian universities to work with local industry partners and mentors from India’s DRDO to develop design specifications for proposed modules that could be used on a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft.

Sanctions, if imposed, could have a disastrous effect on Indo-US relations, and lead to distrust between the two nations…

General Electric Company (GE)

GE is an American multinational that operates in aviation, healthcare, renewable energy and transportation, among others. GE’s presence in India dates back to 1902, when they installed India’s first hydropower plant. GE’s two companies – GE Power India Limited and GE T&D India Limited are listed on the Indian stock exchange. GE Aviation is the world’s leading producer of large and small engines for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft. GE supplies F404IN20 engines for the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas Mk-1. The F414-INS6 engines are selected to power the MKII version of the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. GE’s CFM56 engines power the Indian Navy’s P-8I. GE Aviation is also a leading supplier of integrated systems and technologies for combat aircraft, military transport, helicopters, land vehicles and UAVs. GE’s systems have been deployed on various Indian platforms including the Hawk Mk 132, SEPECAT Jaguar, P-8I, C130J and HJT-36 Sitara.

India Innovation Growth Programme

As a part of its larger commitment, Lockheed Martin has sponsored and supported the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) since 2007 in partnership with the Indian Department of Science and Technology, Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Stanford Graduate School of Business and the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas. The IIGP has supported more than 400 innovators and start-ups with in-depth technology commercialisation training and handholding support to commercialise and scale their ventures. To date, the revenue generated for the Indian entrepreneurs through this programme is approaching $1 billion.

COMCASA and High End Technology

COMCASA is a treaty which the US signs with close allies to facilitate inter-operability between militaries and for sale of high-end technology. It is the India-specific version of the much wider Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). It allows India to procure and transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for US-origin military platforms such as the C-17, C-130, and P-8Is, thus improving operational efficiency. Currently, these platforms use commercially available communications equipment. In June 2017, the US State Department approved the sale of 22 General Atomics MQ-9 Guardian/Predator-B long-range Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) to India. The MQ-9 has both land and sea variants and can be armed with up to four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Pentagon and India’s MoD are working to “tailor” the Predator B UCAV for use by all three wings of the Indian Armed Forces.

In 2012, US President Barack Obama initiated a foreign policy shift to ‘Look East’ to neutralise a rising China…

Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)

The India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) was signed in 2012. With the aim to strengthen India’s defence industrial base, explore new areas of technological development and expand Indo-US business ties, the DTTI initiative is led by US Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, and the Indian Secretary for Defence Protection. The ninth DTTI meeting was held on October 24, 2019. A significant achievement of the meeting was the signing of the ‘Statement of Intent’ with respect to key deliverables in the near, medium and long terms. This will assist in bringing sustained focus on some of the projects and signal commitment of both sides towards continued collaboration on mutually beneficial issues. The DTTI has now matured enough where its varied activities could be translated into accomplishments. Among the ambitious projects identified is a plan to share jet engine technology, an initiative that has floundered given a strict export control regime in the US and the lack of a strong business case from the Indian side. There is a strong suggestion from the industry to set up a Defence Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC) that will be able to supplement government efforts to promote technology sharing, but there has been reluctance from the US to take it up. Focus on start-ups is likely to enable US-based research labs to work in coordination with Indian companies for cutting edge defence technologies. In addition, the two sides are also discussing the possibility of jointly developing systems for approved third nations to pursue export opportunities. Cooperation in the field of space technology is also of interest.

Strategic Trade Authorisation

The US has designated India as a Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) country that will allow her to buy highly advanced and cutting-edge sensitive technologies from the US. This coveted status brings India on a par with the US’ closest allies and partners such as NATO allies, Japan, South Korea and Australia. With this, there is an ease in restrictions for high-technology product sales to India and India will receive license-free access to wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives. It will allow US companies to more efficiently export a much wider range of products to Indian high technology and military customers. It will benefit US manufacturers while continuing to protect its national security. Bilateral defence trade, essentially zero in 2008, would have reached an estimated $18 billion by end 2019.

US-India Business Council (USIBC)

The US-India Business Council (USIBC) was formed in 1975 as a business advocacy organisation to enlighten and encourage the private sectors of both India and the US to enhance investments. The organisation serves as a direct link between business and Government leaders, resulting in increased trade and investment to strengthen ties between the two nations. Aerospace and Defence is a major area today which was evident by the large US delegation at the Aero India 2019.

Defence Policy Group (DPG)

Early August 2019, Indian and American officials agreed to pursue a policy environment conducive to collaboration between the defence industry and start-ups in both countries. The understanding in this regard was reached during the 15th meeting of the India-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) in Washington. The DPG is the top official-level meeting mechanism between India and the US on defence issues, which comprehensively reviews and guides all aspects of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. The meetings take stock of the progress made in various fields of defence cooperation in recent years, including in defence trade, technology, procurement, industry, R&D and mil-to-mil engagement. There are also various working groups.

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Threat of Sanctions against India

In October 2018, India inked the agreement worth $5.43 billion with Russia to procure five S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system, ignoring America’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The US had, at that time, threatened India with sanctions. India was also threatened over its decision to buy oil from Iran. Sanctions, if imposed, could have a disastrous effect on Indo-US relations, and lead to distrust between the two nations.

Congruence and Way Ahead

In 2012, US President Barack Obama initiated a foreign policy shift to ‘Look East’ to neutralise a rising China. The Pentagon deploys 60 percent of US submarines in Asia. Funding for the US Pacific Command (PACOM) has been on the increase. India is key to the US’ ability to create a stable balance of power in the larger Indo-Pacific, and especially at a time of resource constraints, the US needs partners like India to shore up its sagging credibility in this region in the face of Chinese onslaught. The key areas of action in US “Pivot to East Asia” regional strategy have been strengthening and re-balancing bilateral security alliances; deepening working relationships with emerging powers; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence and advancing democracy and human rights. The US has thus been establishing military, economic, and diplomatic ties with countries adjacent to China. End August 2019, the new US Defense Secretary Mark Esper during his conversation with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh discussed future initiatives for India and the US to work together more closely.

A rising China and common security concerns have brought the US, Japan, Australia, ASEAN and India closer on strategic approach in the region. The world’s biggest democracies finally stand on a shared platform, have some congruence in their world view and most importantly, feel the need to work together on many counts. Aerospace is the real place for joint action; and India and the US have taken a conscious first big step.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Anil Chopra

Air Marshal Anil Chopra, commanded a Mirage Squadron, two operational air bases and the IAF’s Flight Test Centre ASTE

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