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Pentagon backs US cos for Indian jet deal

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: July 02, 2010 03:00 IST
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The US military industrial complex is pulling out all the stops to secure the $10 billion deal for 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force and in its latest manifestation has co-opted a top Pentagon official to make a strong pitch for why this sale should be won by US defence manufacturers.

Leading defence manufacturers including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Raytheon  on Thursday sponsored an Asia Society Washington breakfast meeting featuring Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defence for Policy to deliver a speech titled 'Investing in the Future of US-India Defence Relations,' which was billed as a major policy speech on key defence and security issues in US-India relations.

Flournoy's remarks at the Army-Navy Club in Washington, did not contain any new policy formulations vis-à-vis US-India defence ties but made clear how important it was that India seriously consider the bids of the US defence manufacturers for the 126 fighter aircraft as a tangible catalyst to the burgeoning military partnership between Washington and New Delhi as part of the overall US-India strategic partnership.

Flournoy, who announced she would be visiting India shortly and would also co-chair the US-India Defence Policy Group, said that a major growth area in the US-India defence relationship was "our burgeoning trade in defence equipment, including the Indian purchases of C-130J and P-8I aircraft."

She declared, "US companies are eager to work with India as the Indian military continues its modernization," and then added: "Today, two American companies are among the leading competitors for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian air force, currently the world's biggest defence tender.  And we are also looking at future sales of the C-17 aircraft.

Flournoy said, "I want to underscore that we in the Department of Defence do not view defence sales as mere commercial transactions. We understand that India is making a strategic as well as an economic choice when it makes defence acquisitions."

But she argued that "obviously, the commercial benefits of defence sales to the US economy can't be denied, but from a DoD perspective, these sales are most important to building a strategic partnership that will allow both our countries to cooperate more effectively in the future.  Whether the scenario involves humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism cooperation, or maritime security activities, having common equipment will allow more seamless cooperation."

Flournoy acknowledged that "India is, of course, also seeking to build its own indigenous defence industry, and is looking for the best technologies to use in its defence sector," and she reiterated that " the U.S. is committed to providing India with top-of-the-line technology, and we have backed up our commitment by approving the overwhelming majority of licenses requested last year."

She said that Defence Secretary Robert Gates "has made export control reform a key priority, and we see streamlining and modernizing our export control system as a national security issue, one that affects our ability to build effective partnerships."
Earlier in her remarks, the senior Pentagon official said that "some critics in Washington and New Delhi have suggested the Obama Administration is not as committed to US-India relations as its predecessors were. Other critics assert that this administration sees India solely through the lens of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Still others think that the absence of high-profile, headline-grabbing deals and accomplishments over the last 18 months suggests that we don't view this relationship as important."  

Flournoy asserted that "such criticisms miss the mark completely," and argued that "the US-India relationship is not built on, and cannot be sustained on, grand gestures or brief moments of crisis, but on shared interests and values. She said that when she visits India in the next couple of weeks, she would reiterate that " the Pentagon is committed to further strengthening theseties through the enhancement of our defence relationship."

"This bond is grounded in common democratic values and converging interests that make India and US natural partners. The US and India have an overarching shared interest in promoting global stability and security. Increasingly our specific security interests are converging."

Then offering "just three examples," Flournoy said, "First, both the US and Indian economies rely on effective maritime security to preserve free passage in the Indian Ocean and surrounding waterways. Sea lines of communication are fundamental to our continued prosperity, and we have a mutual interest in their security. Second, both countries have an abiding interest in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Together, our efforts will
help counter this threat to regional and global security, and third, we are both committed to promoting global stability and security."

Flournoy said, "India's post-conflict capacity building efforts span the globe, and it remains one of staunchest supporters of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC