Washington upset after Boeing and Lockheed Martin knocked out of race for combat aircraft
As the dust over rejection of two U.S. companies from the Rs. 11,000-crore Indian Air Force tender for fighter aircraft settles, official sources said the United States would also have to reconcile with India's unwillingness to sign three military pacts.
The U.S. was extremely upset after Boeing and Lockheed Martin were knocked out of the race for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
The issue figured in the May 9 conversation between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama after the U.S. Embassy contended that the evaluation was not transparent.
The final report listed some qualitative requirements not met by the U.S. companies. But Washington claimed that these deficiencies were not mentioned in the initial report.
However, India has been unwavering in backing the evaluation of some 600 qualitative requirements of the six fighters in contention.
While the U.S. was denied a strategic foothold in the IAF's offensive capabilities segment, it could face continued stonewalling with respect to three military pacts — Logistics Sharing Agreement (LSA), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA).
The Indian attitude a month ahead of the strategic dialogue between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to keep the issue away from the main agenda.
No hidden objective
The U.S. argues that there is no hidden aim behind the LSA. It is an inter-bank type of clearing arrangement — there will be periodical settlement of accounts for the use of each other's facilities.
For instance, Indian naval ships have had 45 refuellings from the U.S. ships in the Gulf of Aden. Under the LSA, payments need not be made each time. The expenses could be adjusted against the money owed to India if U.S. ships came calling here.
But the Indian leadership feels that the LSA will give the impression of a strategic agreement with the Pentagon in military operations.
After the Defence-Secretary level Defence Policy Group (DPG) meeting in Washington earlier this year, both sides agreed to work towards a more “mature arrangement.'' But there was no “question of a blanket agreement,'' said the official sources.
India confronts a technical issue in signing the CISMOA, though officials feel it sounds heavier than it is. They also feel that interoperability, as argued by the U.S., need not be dependent on signing the CISMOA.
The communication will be encrypted and no other algorithm can be used on the system. During joint exercises, U.S. personnel sit on Indian ships with their own equipment.
But on aircraft there is no space for two or three different kinds of equipment.
The Navy and the Air Force have said they had no problems either way but politically this remains a sensitive issue though officials say it is not as heavy as it sounds.
India also has reservations on the third military agreement sought by the U.S. — BECA. The U.S. says the pact will enable C-130 and C-17 planes to fly close to the ground.
This entails installation of ground sensors, which none in the security establishment, except the Defence Research & Development Organisation is keen on.
Keywords: India-U.S. military ties