It was a cold, rainy morning over New Delhi when US President Barack Obama, Chief Guest at India’s Republic day in January 2015, created history to become the first US President attending India’s military parade to mark January 26, the Republic day.
At the customary flypast on Republic day, Obama and his wife Michelle witnessed three-types of US made platforms and five planes in all, amid a clutch Russian planes and copters, fly over Rajpath, New Delhi central vista and venue of the Parade. The flypast was dominated by Russian planes and helicopters, all purchased during the cold war (1945-1991) or immediately after that. There was light hearted banter in New Delhi saw comments like ‘Obama had witnessed a ‘Russian’ flypast’.
The US presence among 40 odd platforms at the flypast was three of the C-130-J Super Hercules, one each of the Boeing P8I and C-17 globemaster. Ironically, the P8I, a lead surveillance plane, was ‘accompanied’ by the Russian built MiG 29k, Indian Naval fighter jets.
Three fold increase in US presence on Republic-day since 2015
Cut to 2020, the Chinook CH47 and Apache 64E, both inducted in 2019, will make their public debut in India at the fly-past. In all, 14 US made platforms will be at the flypast which will have a total of 41 planes and helicopters participating.
The ‘Chinook’ formation will comprise three helicopters followed by the Apaches, five of them, in ‘arrowhead’ formation. Three planes each of the C130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemasters shall follow.
It is for the first time in more than 60 years that the Indian Air Force is now operating US made copters, a change since the times the IAF only flew Soviet /Russian built copters, the latter continue to be in service, rather the Mi-17 will be the lead at the flypast. So far the IAF has been using the Soviet origin Mi26 for heavy lift role while the Mi35/Mi25 for attack role.
The Chinook CH 47 was inducted at Chandigarh in April last year. It enhances all-weather round-the-clock logistic capability, especially in mountains. With a payload capacity of 11 tonne or 45 troops, it provides fillip to the IAF heavy-lift segment
The Apache 64E attack copter was inducted at Pathankot in September last year. It is the first attack helicopter from the US to be operated by India. The IAF will operate 22 of them and the Army will get another six customised to suit future requirements, it will have significant capability in mountainous terrain up to an altitude of 21,000 ft besides capability to carry out precision attacks at standoff ranges and operate in hostile airspace.
Apart from those in flying formations, India will also display a P8I as part of ‘display models’ in the parade.
The India US growth story
In the past five years, India had got 145 pieces of the specialised M777 ultra light howtizers (ULH) from BAE systems using the foreign military sales route.
In the future, India is looking to get 24 naval multi-role helicopters from US company Lockheed Martin, the price negotiation has ended and a final contract is expected anytime now.
It is also looking at the US for designing an aircraft carrier and getting the EMALS systems akin to the one installed in the USS Gerald R Ford. Specialised ‘predator’ UAVs made by US company General Atomics and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), by Raytheon, are on India’s wishlist. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Indian Defence Minister as accepted the necessity for such a weapon. It can destroy unmanned aerial vehicle and emerging cruise missile threats. India is one of the biggest operators of C-17 and has ordered more P8I
Military relationship is key
In Jun 2016 the US recognised India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’, which commits the US. to facilitate technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners, and industry collaboration for defence co-production and co-development.
Defence relationship emerged as a major pillar of India-U.S. strategic partnership. The two countries now conduct more bilateral exercises with each other than they do with any other country.
It started with signing of ‘New Framework for India-U.S. Defence Relations’ in 2005 resulted intensification in defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, collaboration and cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy, and exchanges between each of the three services.
In June 2015, the framework was renewed for another 10 years. India participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July-August 2016 for the second time with an Indian Naval Frigate. Bilateral dialogue mechanisms in the field of defence include Defence Policy Group (DPG), Defence Joint Working Group (DJWG), Defence Procurement and Production Group (DPPG), Senior Technology Security Group (STSG), Joint Technical Group (JTG), Military Cooperation Group (MCG), and Service-to-Service Executive Steering Groups (ESGs).
Agreements signed since 2016 cement ties
The agreements signed since 2016 include the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) signed in August 2016. And the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), inked in 2018 – the two along with BECA are what the US calls ‘foundational agreements’.
The LEMOA allows India to use US facilities for re-fuelling — much needed as warships keep travelling eastwards. The US has a string of bases starting from Indonesia — located east of India and extending north-eastwards to Japan and also south-eastwards till Australia. The COMCASA facilitates US and Indian military platforms to ‘talk’ to each other, meaning they have common secure communication system allowing seamless transfer of data. Under this Indian Navy and US Indo-PACOM have opened a secure line of communication
The Industrial Security Annex inked in December 2019 provides necessary framework for pursuing co-development and co-production linkages in the defence manufacturing sector,
It will pave the way for private US companies to share high-end technology with Indian companies. In return New Delhi has pledged to protect and safeguard the technology and information by applying its laws.
It is expected to be game changer in the Indo-US ties and act as a precursor for the complete realization of the defence technology and trade initiative (DTTI) between the two countries. This includes three joint projects on air-launched unmanned airborne systems (UAS), lightweight small arms technology, and innovations in the field of intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR).
Apart from this, the India-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) has discussed the possibilities of the two countries inking the third and last of the “foundational agreements” called the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)
BECA enables use of US-produced geospatial maps, which will sharpen the accuracy of missiles. The data from the geospatial library is fed into the missile seeker, allowing it to travel on its own with a great accuracy towards its target on ground.
India had some concerns over sharing geospatial data that the US has agreed to address those concerns .
The Fuel Exchange Agreement was signed in November 2015. The Technical Agreement (TA) on information sharing on White (merchant) Shipping signed in May 2016 and the Information Exchange Annexe (IEA) on Aircraft Carrier Technologies signed in June 2016, have helped add to the growing trust.
During President Obama’s visit in January 2015, the two sides agreed to start cooperation on 4 DTTI pathfinder projects and 2 pathfinder initiatives. The list was expanded in December 2015, the two sides also identified opportunities for bilateral cooperation in production and design of jet engine components. The DTTI is aimed at simplifying technology transfer policies and exploring possibilities of co-development and co-production to invest the defence relationship with strategic value.
Under the DTTI, five new Joint Working Groups have been set-up on: Naval Systems; Air Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Chemical and Biological Protection; and Other Systems.