Considering the volume of defence equipment under negotiation with the U.S., it is only a matter of time before the highly dependable ‘jugaad' ceases to exist as a force multiplier in the Indian military.

The steady flow of varied American material and the anticipated ingress of much more following President Barack Obama's visit later this week could impinge adversely on India's ‘jugaad' or innovative fix-dependent defence systems.

U.S. pacts like the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA), the only one of three crucial accords concerning American defence exports to which New Delhi has so far agreed, foreclose the possibility of the Indian military pursuing its accomplished, long-established and, at times, essential ‘jugaad' route. This not only provides the military the much-needed flexibility but ably renders overseas equipment wholly serviceable in climatic extremes, assorted terrain, and diverse operational requirements.

The fine print of the EUMA, concluded after much wrangling and extended negotiations last year, proscribes the buyer — in this case India — from retrofitting and adapting military equipment to its needs without the Original Equipment Manufacturers' (OEMs) consent and participation for the entire duration of its service which in the case of the U.S. has almost never ever been permitted.

With the 80-odd countries with which it has concluded the EUMA, the U.S. has reportedly made an exception only once by allowing the Israel Air Force to incorporate locally developed sensors and weapons into the Lockheed Martin F 16s supplied to Tel Aviv. Recent reports indicate that a similar agreement has been reached with regard to some systems aboard Lockheed Martin's F 35 Lightning II fifth generation fighter, of which Israel is planning to acquire two squadrons.

Significantly, all U.S. military purchases by India via the Foreign Military Sales or FMS programme have been concluded under the stricter “Golden Sentry” EUMA, governing not only physical verification of the equipment — over which New Delhi and Washington have managed to reach a workable via media — but also its final disposal. This protocol is far stricter than the “Blue Lantern” EUMA governing the direct commercial sale of U.S. materiel worldwide.

But such foreclosure on U.S. defence goods supplied to India would, military officers concede, encroach on decades of amazing and efficient implementation of ‘jugaad,' elevated to sophisticated levels and one which has ensured that imported weapon systems perform well above their declared operational potential.

For decades, ‘jugaad' has rendered a range of platforms not only highly serviceable and effective but in some instances even lethal. These, to mention just a few, include the fleet of 180-190 Chetaks and Cheetahs — principally Alouette IIIs and SA-315B Lamas — capable after the ‘jugaad' of operating almost daily for decades at heights of over 14,000 feet in the Siachen glacier region which their French manufacturers could never have imagined possible.

Alongside, some 125 Mig 21 bis ground attack fighters have been effectively upgraded with Russian collaboration by innovatively equipping them with French, Israeli and locally developed weapons, sensors and electronic warfare systems. These include the deadly RR 550 Magic air-to-air missile developed by Matra of France. The fleet of ground attack Jaguars too has been retrofitted successfully, provided with mid-air refuelling capability among other capabilities supplied by vendors other than the OEM.

Even the frontline Su-30MkI multirole fighters, the muscle of the Indian Air Force's combat squadrons, have local and other-than-Russian competent force multipliers fitted on board. Earlier, during the 1999 Kargil conflict, the IAF had ably equipped its Mirage 2000Hs with indigenous 1000-lb precision guided munitions, delivering them with devastating effect on the Pakistani army.

Similarly, the Indian Navy's depleting Sea Harrier fleet is getting an upgrade that includes replacing the original Blue Fox radar, supplied in a downgraded export configuration through the 1980s and 1990s, with Israel's Elta EL/M-2032 multimode fire control radar with a 100-km operating range. Matching Israeli Rafael Derby beyond visual range air-to-air missiles completes the retrofit.

And, the Army's Soviet and Russian T72 and T 90S main battle tanks, range of artillery guns and infantry combat vehicles, in addition to numerous naval assets, have all been cleverly and effectively adapted through ‘jugaad' with their efficiency, operability and lifespan much enhanced.

But under the EUMA, it seems India's military will have to forgo this functional option to retrofit U.S.-supplied equipment which, for the duration of its service, would exclusively remain the OEM's responsibility.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General's audit some years ago of INS Jalashwa — formerly the USS Trenton, the 38-year old Austin-class landing platform dock which the Navy acquired in 2007 — made special reference to this aspect. It declared that the Navy would remain ‘dependent upon U.S. support' for the LPD's spares and servicing for its service life, requiring American technicians to be flown in whenever it faced technical problems.

And though the government has obliquely claimed success in concluding the EUMA on Indian terms by securing the concession that the time and location of the U.S. equipment's verification process would be determined by New Delhi, it has cleverly avoided all mention of the life-long and costly reliance on the OEMs to keep all American equipment in service.

Earlier this year, Army Chief General V.K. Singh cautioned the government over acquiring U.S. defence equipment materiel via the FMS route, saying that after-sales maintenance support for it could prove “problematic.”

The Army claimed it had been facing recurring problems with the 12 Thales-Raytheon Systems AN/TPQ-37 (V) 3 Firefinder artillery locating radar acquired in 2002 for $142.4 million through the FMS programme. More than two-thirds of these radar — India's first significant U.S. military equipment purchase in nearly four decades after Washington lifted sanctions on Delhi in October 2001 for its 1998 nuclear tests — were ‘off road' awaiting either spare parts or maintenance or both precluding their operational deployment mostly in Kashmir. Many army officers believe ‘jugaad' would have prevented the breakdown of the radar.

Meanwhile, India's hesitancy in confirming the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMoA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) also forecloses the option of the U.S. transferring advanced avionics and communication equipment and satellite navigational aids aboard the eight Boeing P8I Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft (MMA) and six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft configured for Special Forces employment, all costing over $3 billion. Under the U.S. law, both pacts need bilateral confirmation to ensure client compliance with sensitive technology control transfers.

The IAF and the Navy, however, are planning repeat orders for at least six additional C-130Js and four more P 8Is. The Border Security Force and the Meteorological Department too have expressed interest in acquiring C-130Js in varied configurations.

But the absence of secure and encrypted communication equipment aboard them would curtail the operational efficiency of both aircraft, reducing them to little more than sophisticated aerial platforms even though Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, somewhat disingenuously, dismissed such claims recently.

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon too parsed India's stand, claiming that the proposed defence pacts with the U.S. were “something brand new” and that the government would evaluate whether inking them was a “feasible route” forward.

Complex legal issues on warranty, liabilities and possible arbitration over supply of military equipment if something were to go amiss were still under negotiation between the U.S. and Indian officials. In the absence of crucial pacts remaining unsigned, many contracts like the transfer of three wide-bodied Boeing Business Jets for the IAF's VVIP squadron had, for instance, been concluded individually.

Of the three VVIPs jets, however, only one is believed to be equipped with missile deflecting security suites provided out of courtesy by President George W. Bush's Republican administration to a nascent strategic partner with military hardware buying potential. The remaining two Boeings await closure of CISmoA and BECA.

Washington's initial indulgence, it seems, has slid into obstreperousness and exasperation over India's reluctance to sign blanket agreements to facilitate materiel transfers that govern all American military sales. Considering the volume of defence equipment under negotiation, on offer and under trial, it is only a matter of time before New Delhi buckles and the ubiquitous and highly dependable ‘jugaad' ceases to exist as a force multiplier in the Indian military.

More In: Lead | Opinion