Geopolitics

Strategic Partnerships of the 21st Century
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Apr , 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the President of France Francois Hollande

The term “strategic partnership” has been in-vogue in the post cold War period with countries having multiple strategic partnerships. However matters related to realpolitik force to see “strategic partnership” as an idea (constructed) rather than a mirror image of the understood reality. For example, India is a strategic partner to Russia, United States, France, and China all at the same time.

The recent agreement on India’s purchase of French designed combat aircraft Rafale and Russia’s direct sale of RD-93 jet engine for JF-17 combat aircraft jointly designed by China and Pakistan does raise the complexity involved with strategic partnerships of 21st century and its likely trajectory for the future.

However while each of these strategic partnership share uncommon history, diplomatic memories, expectations, it does share a common foundation at a diplomatic level – No Explicit Negation. For example, according to Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash the Russian sale of MI-31 Hind E attack helicopters to Pakistan upsets a informal tactical agreement between India and its largest supplier of arms, Russia. Is this aspect of India’s foreign policy engagement safe and beneficial to its foreign policy?

The recent agreement on India’s purchase of French designed combat aircraft Rafale and Russia’s direct sale of RD-93 jet engine for JF-17 combat aircraft jointly designed by China and Pakistan does raise the complexity involved with strategic partnerships of 21st century and its likely trajectory for the future.

A strategic partnership by its very nature is not only based on deep trust that evolves over a period of time, but also designed to secure each others national interest. While Russia supplies 75.7% of India’s imported defence requirements and provides assistance with some of its more classified strategic programme, such as its nuclear-powered attack submarines[1], the depth of Indo-Russian strategic relation is best comprehended by the secret deal signed in February 2014 where India will pay Russia to supply weapons to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)[2]. This allows India to uphold its partnership with Afghanistan without directly supplying arms.

With an agreement on defence cooperation between Russia and Pakistan, decades old informal understanding between India and Russia to not sell Russian military platforms to Pakistan has entered doldrums. In June 2014 Russia agreed to supply Pakistan with the MI 35 Hind E attack helicopters followed by a Pakistan Foreign Office statement on possible Russian consideration on future Pakistan requests for military hardware supply. As part of the defence cooperation agreement between Russia and Pakistan, Russia has agreed to sell the Klimov RD 93 jet engines to Pakistan directly[3].

The Klimov RD 93 powers the jointly (Pakistan and China) produced FC-1/JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft, which is in service with Pakistan Air Force (2 squadrons) and has been pitched for exports. Both Russian aviation industry and India have raised their displeasure at the budding defence cooperation between Russia and Pakistan.

For the Russian aviation industry the direct sale of Klimov RD 93 improves the export potential of JF-17/FC-1 in direct competition with Russian designed MIG-29 given the similarities in mission orientation and affordability and for India this new development is seen as an attempt on part of Russian to arm-twist India from sourcing its military supply from alternate suppliers. India opted for French designed Rafale C multi-role combat aircraft as part of its need for Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) replacing the aging Russian MIG-21 in its inventory, at the opportunity cost of investing in the development of fifth-generation Russian designed T-150/PAK-FA[4].

A defence deal is unlike the other components of a framework of comprehensive strategic partnership, it is a seller-buyer relationship based on formal understanding of its working principle.

India’s choice of meeting its defence requirements D(r) from abroad has implications for its foreign policy F(p).

D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p

India has met this equation with a balance in its weapons procurement from multiple nations based on a mutual agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MoD) specific to each case and country. However it has mixed inventory of foreign supplied arms with skewed   imports from Russia. A sought of “paradigm shift” has occurred since the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union. Denial of key military technology and export of platforms designed by the West (NATO nations) met with Russian design bureau and government interest in enhancing its political power through sharing and transferring its technology with members of the third world countries which comprises of emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Vietnam and other non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations.

A defence deal is unlike the other components of a framework of comprehensive strategic partnership, it is a seller-buyer relationship based on formal understanding of its working principle. However as in the past, nations have experienced the exercise of the seller nations political will upon its free will to exercise the option to use force and defend its sovereignty. For example France backed out of a defence deal with Israel to develop its indigenously produced prototype of MIRAGE III delta wing multi-role combat aircraft Nesher in early 1960’s given its strategic objectives in the Middle East. Russia had concerns over the Chinese reverse engineering of its SU-30 aircraft, but has shared key technologies and platforms with China such as the RD-33 engines which has jointly produced JF-17/FC-1 with Pakistan with intention of export. JF-17/FC-1 is opined to be the excellent in its class for affordability and mission based performance.

India’s own initiative to indigenously produce combat aircraft in 1981 resulted in Indian Air Forced conducting final operational test of Tejas designed and manufactured by Aviation Development Agency (ADA), Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) and powered with engines imported from US. Pakistan’s initiative to design and produce its own combat aircraft in 1989 has resulted in the induction of two squadrons of JF-17 in Pakistan Air Force. In 1995 Pakistan joined China which began the development of next generation Chengdu Super-6 combat aircraft based on the design of Russian MIG-21.

Like Russia, France has projected itself as a favorable political partner to India with the Indian Air Force operating the Dassault design built five types of combat aircraft from Typhoon to the latest induction of upgraded version of Mirage-2000. The seller-buyer relationship is further vulnerable to the buyer given the duration of the defence deal which stretches from procurement to the decommissioning of the platform. The upgraded version of Mirage-2000 was inducted to the Air Force in 1998 with the capability to carry nuclear payload. Until the decommissioning of this platform in next two-three decades India’s capability in deploying this platform to War based on its free will is likely to be subject to hypothetical French disagreement over such an exercise.

During the Kargil conflict in 1999 over the high altitude mountain terrain Israel provided a key solution to India’s military problem to locate heavily armed intruders in hard bunkers…

The requirement for serviceability, training, upgradation and whole host operational-technical know how requires political will to be aligned for the platform to be efficiently used during the military options. During the Kargil conflict in 1999 over the high altitude mountain terrain Israel provided a key solution to India’s military problem to locate heavily armed intruders in hard bunkers on peaks by sharing its unmanned aerial vehicle Drone, enabling Indian Air Force to carry out precision guided ammunition attack. Without this crucial transfer the intruders enjoyed a battle superiority and inflicted heavy casualties to Indian infantry.

Israel on the other hand eradicated this equation by going for independent production of ceratin platforms which it procured from the West. For example the design and production of its prototype of French Mirage III from acquired blue prints after France arm twisted her in relation with the Middle East in 1960’s. In a speech delivered by Israeli Prime Minister to the US Congress on 03 March 2015 which invited without consulting the US Administration, Prime Minister thanked the US for its sale of Iron Dorm air defence system which helped Israel to develop and produce its indigenous Iron Dorm air defence system. Therefore a defence procurement is key factor in determining the foreign policy and national interest in safeguarding a nations sovereignty and limit or improve the application of power from land, air, sea, space, and cyber space while exercising its use-of-force option. For a seller too this equation is useful in influencing politics with the sale of its military platform for a period of time.

The new paradigm has seen an increased shift in procurement of India’s next generation platform from West previously denied for aligning with Soviet Union. For India the platforms acquired from US has been significant in value and performance over the last two decades. For example India and United States constituted a joint study group to help India absorb certain key technologies and operational benchmark for its indigenous development of Aircraft Carrier construction INS Vishal in January 2015. This assistance comes in the backdrop of the recent induction of Russian refurbished Kiev class Soviet decommissioned aircraft carrier Admiral Gokshov in Indian Navy. Indian Navy procured MIG 29 K for its Black Panther Squadron to operate on board R33 INS Vikramaditya. The 1984 MIG 29 Fulcrum is already operational with Indian Air Force with upgradation.

The Panoramic Strategic View:

Control over international armament industry and its supply is key for global power centers to maintain a desired world order by managing the intensity of conflict around the world. In order to do so introduction of new innovation at development and production of cutting edge technology in battle space is paramount and contested fiercely among nations. In order to design, develop and produce the fifth next generation of combat aircraft US has tied the western world in a alliance where some nations (Australia, Canada) have agreed for inducting F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which has not yet entered production due to operational tests and being critical with respect to the test result.

In order to design, develop and produce the fifth next generation of combat aircraft US has tied the western world in a alliance where some nations (Australia, Canada) have agreed for inducting F-35…

Its a irony that the F 35 Lightning is prohibited from flying in close proximity to “Lightning” due to its vulnerability to catch fire. While F-35 is still a paper tiger, as a “concept” in developing the Fifth next generation combat aircraft is relevant in gauging the trajectory the West is likely to take in the future.

As a concept JSF is a state of the art technology demonstrator designed with future battle scenario in mind. In meeting a complex set of mission objectives the JSF has limited its ability to perform most missions. Inclusion of JSF as not just multi-role, multi-mission combat aircraft but also as a common tri-service platform ended in production of bad plane. According to Sean Pierre who technically defined the A-10 close support (ground attack) and the F-16 Falcon in late 1970’s on behalf of the US Department of Defence (DoD) the JSF is a TURKEY designed by newbies who have not defined JSF in terms air combat.

In meeting the US Navy requirement for a Vertical Take Off And Landing (VTOL) aircraft, has increased the crafts weight and shortened wing span which limits JSF to accomplish quick turns during a dog fight. To increase the planes invisibility to hostile RADAR, the JSF is designed to carry its weapon payload concealed within, this has reduced its weapons payload without making it invisible to hostile RADAR. The JSF designers at the Lockheed Martin while admitting that JSF is not ready to see combat stand firm on its objective. However JSF is justified in terms of it being unlike the present fighter jets.

JSF is designed for jointness among the services at the operational level. For example, on paper JSF is designed for entering a deteriorated battle condition and lay the first stone to achieving air-superiority followed by air-dominance. In order to do so it operates as a collective platform where pilot of a JSF will pick up targets and fire his ammunition from another JSF in the theater.

The JSF design has reiterated the direction of combat aviation history which is now in the phase of Beyond-Visual-Range-Combat (BVRC), Stealth, Multiple Role & Mission, Fly-By-Wire and Precision Bombing. However most of these niche technology have a long way to go before becoming combat effective and hence a reliable option in using force.

If India’s procurement increases at a high rate from the NATO member nations then India adds on to its uniqueness by not just being an Air Force to integrate various platforms but find joint operability with NATO.

In its overall objective, apart from meeting mission requirement the JSF with its extensive application of technology provides pilots to assume the role of a tactician more than the actual flying of the aircraft.

With the objectives of combat effectiveness, overall production and serviceability other nations have designed their own platforms and offered it for export. Russia has produced SU-35, MIG-35, and begun testing the prototypes of TA-50/PAK-FA. France having backed out of European development project to develop the next generation of combat aircraft among European powers Germany and Great Britain, went on to produce and export Rafale C. Having commissioned in 1998 the Dassault designed Rafale saw combat during the French military operations over Libya. Germany and Britain produced the Eurofighter Typhoon and Sweden produced the single engine Gripen. China and Pakistan jointly produced JF-17/FC-1 and India produced its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas in similar class with JF-17.

Sukhoi designed SU-35

This new paradigm allows Pakistan to consider the export of JF-17 Thunder to countries like Bulgaria in competition with used platforms from NATO member nations. Bulgaria has a hard choice of choosing the US $ 10-15 million JF-17 for its incompatibility with NATO combat aerial platforms. Bulgaria’s new membership to NATO necessitates a platform compatible with western combat aircraft for inter-operability[5]. With no such compatibility issue India, China, Pakistan operate a range of platforms which include domestic assembly line under license production. If India’s procurement increases at a high rate from the NATO member nations then India adds on to its uniqueness by not just being an Air Force to integrate various platforms but find joint operability with NATO[6].

From a industry point of view sale of weapons platform has multiple significance to conduct international relations. Non inclusion of Rafale C for Australian Air Force procurement of combat jet came as a surprise to French Dassault aviation which had began preparation for a serious marketing campaign on Australian soil. In a late announced agreement the Australian government and Lockheed Martin signed an agreement for Australia to procure the F-35 JSF with out any competition. Delay in production type variant of JSF has forced Australia to procure the Super Hornet as a temporary substitute.

India’s leap-frog into a aviation design and develop capable of expansion as in this case had impact on its strategic issue.

Lessons from military history

Nature of warfare as it is shaped in the 21st century has in turn shaped the nature of war-fighting which is specialized unlike the 20th century world wars and subject to international law, morality, capability, and operational art. A high rate of causality in modern warfare is unacceptable and therefore concepts such as – Beyond Visual Range Combat, No Contact Warfare, Psychological Warfare, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Precision/Laser/RADAR Guided, Fly By Wire have been developed for meeting the requirements necessitate by a change in nature of war. The 21st century warfare is headed towards “peacekeeping” than a attrition based war fighting of the world wars.

Given Aristotelean ideas about future in On Interpretation, future is “in-determinant,” war-fighting in the traditional sense where a opponent is seeking to annihilate or force submission is possible only in situation where the overall capability is in favor of Offence. Proliferation of weapon system from US, Russia, and European powers has generated a “clocking” effect which supports a balance of power (Offence<Defence) theory among most military power. For example an acceptance of US Navy that its ability to project power as it is traditionally used to is limited due to influx in Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) capabilities of China, Iran, Russia.

To meet this challenge United States led group of nations classified as Allies, Partners, or Friends are adapting their force structure, training, and platforms to what Air Sea Battle Office refers as ASB doctrine. Russia although while not having a alliance based approach has defence cooperation with many countries such as China. China is at the final stage of inducting SU-35 from Russia which is finding excuse to sell the craft with additional 1000 hours of armament testing which remains before final export configuration to Chinese. Chinese are expected to avoid the tests and take delivery on simple changes like language on user interface.

Balance is created by cross-wind generated where Pakistan flies with a Russian RD-93 engine and India flies its US made engine. India’s leap-frog into a aviation design and develop capable of expansion as in this case had impact on its strategic issue. In the history of combat jet aviation competition among designers is fierce as technology enables enhanced combat capable aircraft. Simple ideas but most complex in terms of methodology have undergone micro analysis for implementation and is riddled with designing a “Combat” capable aircraft.

Combat aviation history has since see a technology war giving rise to technological nationalism.

The combat aviation history begins and has parallels with international politics. An enforced proliferation of German technology with the end of Nazi government revolutionized the aviation arm with its swept wing design, delta wing design and jet engine, which led to British Rolls Royce export 10 jet engines to Russia who improvised them to produce MIG. The MIG’s produced “surprise” in-between the Korean war in 1950’s and met its western counterpart the US Sabre. Combat aviation history has since see a technology war giving rise to technological nationalism. Each nation picked and built to a new tradition of combat aviation design state of the art. Competition over both international and domestic design is matched with creating self dependent aviation industrial base with high-end technology and infrastructure. German technology was enforced and creatively innovated.

However its transfer is subject to politics. The export of Rafale C to replace the MIG-21 (upgraded) happens after 17 yrs since its induction in French Air Force in 1998. It will be operational at full capacity in due course as the deal includes license production in India. For a country like India which exports from Western and Russian design based on strategic denominators makes strategic choice and is expected to calculate the political consequences. With JSF not being the safe bet at Lockheed Martin, India has forgone the opportunity to be a significant partner to Russia in its development of fifth next generation combat aircraft and incorporate technology transfer to a upgrade version or another design of LCA Tejas. India has expertise in Russian designs which is as a school of art in competition with western design giving “clocking” technologies. Since Russian technology transfer is different to the western transfer riddled with sanction, India’s import of French made Rafale C will find a parity in Russian designed combat aircraft in Pakistan Air Force, Chinese design already being operational at two squadron level.

With a delay of 20 plus years in inducting state of the art aviation technology from west and other suppliers, India is unlikely to find superiority in air armament until it develops its industrial base.

Did India make “Strategic Choice” without “choosing”

At round table organized by Vayu-StratPost Air Power round table (June, 2014) it was unclear among the participants which included retired chiefs of the Indian Air Force on what the IAF wanted through its MMRCA deal. Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash raised the issue of the exact parameter of the combat aircraft requirement of IAF. The term medium weight and multi-role came up for close scrutiny. It forces one to think if medium weight was a oasis in between the domestic production of LCA (Light weight-single) and Russian designs (Heavy weight – twin engine) from a defence deal point of view. The multi-role requirement is not defined in terms of mission (bombing, ground attack, interceptor, air-superiority, air-dominance etc). Rafale C deal is also based on rigorous selection procedure which signals out cost as one reason having satisfied performance.

Deals such as Rafale C and those in pipeline such as western air defence system Patriot missile defence system enforce the possibility of system integration with other powers such as NATO. With a delay of 20 plus years in inducting state of the art aviation technology from west and other suppliers, India is unlikely to find superiority in air armament until it develops its industrial base. A careful study of war and high technology must precede expending half of 42 billion US $ defence budget.


Reference:

[1] This is followed by the US (6.8%) and Israel (5.2%). Rahul Bedi and James Hardy (2014), “India Unhappy At Russia’s MI-35 Sale To Pakistan” IHS Janes Defence Weekly; 23 June, 2014. Available at http://www.janes.com/article/39894/india-unhappy-at-russia-s-mi-35-sale-to-pakistan

[2] Rahul Bedi (2014), “ India, Russia sign secret deal to supply materiel to Afghan army” IHS Janes Defence Weekly; 6 May, 2014. Available at http://www.janes.com/article/37522/sources-india-russia-sign-secret-deal-to-supply-materiel-to-afghan-army

[3] Until this deal Pakistan imported the Chinese built RD-93 engines designed by Russia. Farhan Bokhari (2014), “IDEAS 2014: Pakistani defence minister says Russia ready to sell RD-93 engine directly to Islamabad” IHS Janes Defence Weekly; 01 December, 2014. http://www.janes.com/article/46580/ideas-2014-pakistani-defence-minister-says-russia-ready-to-sell-rd-93-engine-directly-to-islamabad

[4] Reuben F Johnson (2015), “Analysis: India faces crunch decision over Rafale, PAK-FA” IHS Janes Defence Weekly; 8 April, 2015. Available at http://www.janes.com/article/50530/analysis-india-faces-crunch-decision-over-rafale-pak-fa

[5] Gareth Jennings (2015), “Bulgaria to be offered JF-17 by Pakistan” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 04 March, 2015. Available at http://www.janes.com/article/49749/bulgaria-to-be-offered-jf-17-fighter-by-pakistan

[6] Indian Air Force’s uniqueness as a force to operate and intergrate multiple-nation supplied combat aircrafts was mentioned so by Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha in an interview to Doordarshan News on 08 October, 2014.

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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

Dr Sundaram Rajasimman

Dr. Rajasimman Sundaram teaches history, politics, and culture and a member of the BRICS Advanced Studies Institute at Sichuan International Studies University [四川外国语大学] (Chongqing, People’s Republic of China).

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2 thoughts on “Strategic Partnerships of the 21st Century

  1. The typical Fp formula. [ foreign policy F(p). D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p] is not all the true in Modi’s India case. There seems other vectors too in the frame work.

    However, A nice article, good mr rajasimhan. May please enhance in line with asia- centric factors too.

  2. The typical Fp formula. [ foreign policy F(p). D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p] is not all the true in Modi’s India case. There seems other vectors too in the frame work.

    However, A nice article, good mr rajasimhan.

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