P. S. Suryanarayana

"Bush's arrival may push cooperation"

Allays doubts that India was out of orbit for state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighter planesDefence exercise with Singapore not intended to send any signal to China

SINGAPORE: India's defence cooperation with the Asia-Pacific countries was aimed at maintaining regional stability, Chief of Air Staff S. P. Tyagi told The Hindu on Tuesday night. He said there were "no plans of a formal military tie-up" with Washington during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to India.

Air Chief Marshal Tyagi was answering questions on the observation made by Gen. Hester, Commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, at an international security conference here on Monday that Mr. Bush's visit to New Delhi would result in a "symbolic comment on strengthening the alliance" with India.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief said: "There is no alliance [with the United States], nor is there an understanding of an alliance. I don't think India has military alliance on its agenda now. Maybe, President Bush's arrival [in India] may push [defence] cooperation in some direction. But there are limits to how much we can do."

Air Chief Marshal Tyagi, who is in Singapore on a bilateral visit and for the ongoing Asian Aerospace event, said Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's planned visit to China, Japan, and Singapore was also "not about forming [an] agreement." The likely tour was in line with the importance of regional stability for India's economic growth. "Whatever it takes to keep the [Asia-Pacific] region stable, we will adopt that posture," Air Chief Marshal Tyagi maintained.

"We have what we need for our security, as we see it" in this evolving situation. The IAF now possessed warplanes of "fourth generation" at the higher end of the spectrum.

Allaying doubts that India was out of orbit for state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighter planes such as the American F-22s and F-35s being advertised at the Asian Aerospace 2006, a show managed by Reed Exhibitions, he said the F-22 at a price tag of $250 million apiece "is too expensive a toy we are not looking at."

The IAF was already cruising along a state-of-the-art wavelength. Security needs and affordability within "budgetary constraints" were the parameters. "The [Russian vintage] Sukhois have just been upgraded to Phase Three. We are in the production, and upgrading is a constant process," he said.

On India's defence diplomacy across East Asia, he said the possibility of an IAF exercise with Singapore along its skyline or across the nearby international airspace reflected "no desire to give any signal" to China about India's capabilities. India was not looking for "inter-operability" with the Singapore Air Force in the sense of a prelude to any kind of defence alliance.

"There is an engagement with China as well" in the defence domain although no plans were on at the moment for any IAF exercise with the Chinese.