Indo-US defence cooperation: a confluence of strategic interests

2 August 2011 FDI Team


Since the US intervention in Afghanistan, Indo-US relations have expanded and developed into what is now a strategic partnership. A significant facet of this relationship is in the sphere of defence co-operation, which has seen successive US governments sell high-tech arms and military equipment to the Indian military. The latest deal follows in the wake of the Indian cabinet’s earlier announcement, in June this year, which authorised India’s largest-ever purchase from the US and included ten C-17 heavy-lift aircraft worth US$4.1 billion.

For some years now, the Indian defence market has proved to be a lucrative one for the US arms industry. For instance, in March 2009 the US government authorised the US$2.1 billion sale of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft to the Indian Navy. Before that, in January 2008, Washington approved the US$1 billion sale of six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules military transport planes. Similarly, in 2007 the Indian Navy purchased the USS Trenton for US$48 million. The Trenton is a landing-dock vessel and was also the Indian Navy’s first-ever US-built naval vessel. In 2005, India and the US signed a historic defence framework that, for the first time, included joint production of arms. Previously, in 2002, the US sold to India 12 Raytheon-manufactured weapon-locating radars in a deal worth $200 million.

Based on projections over the next five years, India is expected to spend upwards of US$30 billion on advanced weapons systems. Although Russia and Israel remain India’s two leading defence suppliers, arms sales from the US are set to expand over the coming years. This will likely be the case even though US bids made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing were rejected in favour of the French Rafale and the Eurofighter made by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

As bilateral relations continue to expand in other areas such as co-operation in energy, including civil-nuclear collaboration, US defence companies are likely to rank as leading contenders in strengthening their foothold in the Indian market. What this trend also suggests is that the willingness of Washington to sell advanced weaponry is an integral part of its broader strategy, which sees a wider future role for India in world affairs, perhaps most notably in shouldering more regional security commitments.

South Asia Masala

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