Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019

India Playing the US Game

B Arjun

THE Modi government is making India flow into the American military fold at a break-neck speed. In 2016, India became a “Major Defense Partner” of the United States (US). Buying military equipment from the US is the high point of Modi’s foreign policy. He is aiming to make India a full-fledged US military ally and privatise national defence before the end of his term as prime minister.  Today, US is India’s biggest arms supplier. The cumulative defence trade between the two countries is in the range of US $14 to $15 billion.

On his recent visit to the United States, prime minster Modi’s main agenda was purchase of drones from the US. Mechanisms are being worked out to start production of F-16 aircraft in India. Incidentally, F-16 is a redundant aircraft, the US military is converting their own F-16 fleet into target drones. However, it is by dangling the carrot that US is luring India to become its junior military partner in Asia Pacific. Modi administration is dutifully obeying the imperial diktat.

Today, no country holds more annual exercises with India than the United States. Currently, India and the US are in the midst of latest version of naval exercise in Malabar in the Bay of Bengal. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is also participating in the naval exercise that is one of the biggest than all previous editions. India can no longer deny that it is a full-time member of the US led anti-China brigade in Asia. The aim of the coalition is not to contain China but to perpetuate the aggressive US empire that has been shamelessly devouring country after country with impunity.   

The process of developing strategic ties with the United States started in the 1990s. The Indian elite had always detested the distance that non-alignment helped maintain from the United States. The end of cold war emboldened the elite to fulfil their long-cherished dream of embracing the US. Regardless of the cost involved in getting militarily close to an empire, India has kept diving deep into the relationship. The net result is that after more than two decades we find that India is a military ally of the United States. It partakes in the global strategic goals enunciated by the US and is merrily playing the role assigned to it in Asian context. Whenever our prime minster visits the US, what the newspapers are filled with is defence deals. The predominance of defence factor in the bilateral relationship is making India more and more dependent on US and bringing it under their security umbrella. Much like Pakistan we are treading a strategic path that would finally result in mortgaging our military to US imperial interests. 

The reality is that arms purchases from the US are tied to stringent US laws that permit sale of defence equipment and services only to countries that require them for their “legitimate defense needs and to promote world peace.” This in effect means that the legitimate defence needs of a country and its definition of world peace is the sole preserve of the seller. The buyer of US arms has to subscribe to world view prescribed by the empire and endorse the threat perceptions enumerated by the US strategic goals.

The defense relationship got a boost in 2002 when, after 15 years of negotiations, the United States and India concluded a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the first defense foundational agreement. The agreement facilitated greater intelligence sharing between the two countries and provided an opening to the US military industrial complex (MIC) to penetrate Indian defence setup. This was followed by revival of the Malabar series of joint naval exercises. The India-US military ties galloped with the signing of The New Framework for Defense Cooperation in 2005. In 2012, US Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) came into being. 2009 saw India entering the End Use Agreement with the US to abide by the provisions enshrined in Article 41 of the US Arms Export Control Act (AECA). This entailed India to allow continuous monitoring – by US experts – of the arms bought from the United States. The “New Framework” agreement was renewed in 2015 to give further fillip to the defence ties.

The further consolidation of the India-US defence ties hinges on three “foundational” agreements –  Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA). Many hope that the signing of the agreement will be a boon for the infant Indian military-industrial complex and catapult India to “great power” status. In April 2016, the two countries began agreeing to refer to US-India foundational agreements as the “facilitating agreements.”

India has already inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the United States. LEMOA was sold to the Indian public as the watered-down version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which the US signs with other military allies to facilitate smooth exchange of logistics support, supplies and services on a reciprocal basis. This will not only enable American forces to use low-cost Indian logistic services at the same price at which the Indian armed forces receive them.  The logistic operations in the US armed forces are largely privatised and also give entry to their private military contractors on Indian soil. Sooner rather than later these private defence companies are likely to tie-up with their Indian counterparts and start eating into the armed forces revenue budgets too. Basically, the US defence companies are eyeing both the Indian defence capital budget as well as the revenue budget. Capital budget caters to purchase of military hardware, while the revenue budget provides for various services like rations, ordinance maintenance, transportation etc.  

The current focus is on CISMOA that allows interoperability between allies in an operational environment. CISMOA is important because the US wants to tightly control all channels of communications – all data flows – within a theatre of operation. The US wants to be at the centre and guide the information flows to and from allies. It is believed that CISMOA would enable India to get encrypted communications equipment and systems allowing military commanders to communicate with aircraft and ships through a secure network. The issue is that the encryption software will be under the US control. The amount of information and the time at which it will be dished out to a partner will all be controlled by the Americans. Others will just be followers performing the military task assigned to them by their master. India is now in a bind, the military equipment it has bought from the US cannot be fully exploited till the time India signs CISMOA. For Example, the P-8I aircraft purchased from the US is not fully compatible to operate jointly with the US forces and share the data with it. Similarly, advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft can only be received by India once it has signed the BECA agreement. The absence of this agreement has affected the navigational and flight management systems that India could procure for its purchase of C-17, C-130J, and P8-I aircraft.

In the context of India, this means that in order to be interoperable with its strategic defence partner it will have to rely more and more on US manufactured systems, because systems purchased from Russia would not be able to plug into the secure communication and data transfer networks provided by the US. In order to make Russian systems compatible to the common grid, complex and costly interfaces would have to be established. This is likely to lead to tampering with the proprietary hardware and software. The worst is India will have to bear the cost of making legacy systems compatible and interoperable. 

India is now fully trapped by the US. It is almost imperative for India to purchase only that military hardware which has US approved software; because without such software the Indian military hardware will not be able to plug into the overarching US network. Willy-nilly India will have no option but to buy equipment from the US or countries like Korea and Israel. All the levers of Indian military will go into the US hands, giving India very little autonomy to decide its war and peace.

Behind the veil of anti-globalisation Trump is pushing the agenda of military globalisation. The American empire is now using technology to network maximum militaries into its grid. This will enable it to control all its allies through remote control. The US will just play the systems administrator and the other will go the harm’s way. US wants to spend less on defence and encourage its allies, like India, to share more of its burden by investing in buying military hardware. Unfortunately, India is completely oblivious of its long-term national interests goals acting as a strategic sucker.