A U.S. commitment to provide India with top-of-the-line technology as India modernizes its armed forces and builds its own defense industry is likely to cause unease in Pakistan, which also wants U.S. equipment to prosecute its war against terrorists.
The Obama administration has sought to assure Pakistan, as well as China, that its burgeoning defense ties with India do not pose a threat. But analysts say that despite such assurances, major defense deals with either of the nuclear-armed rivals are bound to create unease.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani defense analyst with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said the sale of advanced technology to India will “perturb Pakistan beyond imagination.”
“Such deals will be seen as excessively strengthening India, have a major impact on the future of Pakistan” and could exacerbate an arms race between India and Pakistan, she said.
In a major policy speech last week, Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, described herself as a very strong advocate of “U.S. solutions for India’s defense needs.” She said U.S. companies are eager to work with India.
The U.S. has sold C-130J “Super” Hercules transport planes and P-8I anti-submarine warfare and long-range patrol aircraft to India as part of the growing defense trade between the two countries. The U.S. also wants to sell C-17 military transport planes to its Asian ally.
Two U.S. companies, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., are among the leading competitors for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian air force. This is currently the world’s biggest defense tender.
While Boeing wants to sell the F-18 Super Hornet to India, Lockheed Martin is offering the F-16IN Super Viper.
Johnny Whitaker, director of international communications at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., said the F-16IN has been “specifically designed to meet or exceed Indian air force requirements and will be the most advanced version of the F-16 ever produced.”
The latest advancements in weapons, sensors and mission capabilities have been added to the fighter jet.
“Lockheed Martin and our F-16 suppliers will transfer the knowledge to Indian industry to allow them to indigenously produce and support the aircraft,” Mr. Whitaker said.
On Tuesday, India rolled out its first naval variant of the indigenously produced light combat aircraft (LCA), providing a boost to its efforts to manufacture a fleet of fighter jets for its aircraft carriers.
Historically, India and Pakistan have viewed each other’s defense purchases with suspicion. The two neighbors have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Pakistan will have its eye on Indias military purchases” this time as well.
But if the U.S. didn’t sell this equipment, India would buy it from some other country, she said. “So for the U.S. to withhold sales would certainly not stop an effort by Pakistan to balance these purchases. So the key decision is Indias decision to buy, not the U.S. decision to sell,” she said.
Pakistan has benefited from U.S. military technology long before India became an economic powerhouse in the region.
“While Pakistan has in the past received American defense hardware in significant amounts, sometimes causing much trepidation in India, it’s likely that India’s broader security interests and greater resources will result in ever more major defense procurement from abroad, and U.S. suppliers seem well-poised to provide the kind of capabilities and technologies that Indian security planners seek,” said K. Alan Kronstadt, a specialist in South Asian affairs at the Congressional Research Service.
The Washington Times reported last month that Pakistan has sought $2.5 billion in U.S. arms, including helicopter gunships, tanks, armored personnel carriers and air-defense missiles. Pakistan also wants unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
According to a paper by Mr. Kronstadt, major post-2001 defense supplies provided, or soon to be provided, by the U.S. to Pakistan include:
• Eight P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and their refurbishment (valued at $474 million, two delivered).
• About 5,250 TOW anti-armor missiles ($186 million; 2,007 delivered).
• Six AN/TPS-77 surveillance radars ($100 million).
• Six C-130E transport aircraft and their refurbishment ($76 million).
• Five refurbished SH-2I Super Seasprite maritime helicopters ($67 million).
• One ex-Oliver Hazard Perry class missile frigate ($65 million).
• 20 AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters ($48 million, 12 refurbished and delivered).
• 121 refurbished TOW missile launchers ($25 million).
Pakistan will pay for 18 new F-16C/D Block 50/52 combat aircraft valued at $1.43 billion, 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles ($298 million), 500 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles ($95 million); and six Phalanx Close-In Weapons System naval guns ($80 million).
The first three of the 18 F-16s were delivered late last month to Pakistan.
“In comparison with Pakistan, defense cooperation between the United States and India is still in the relatively early stages of development,” Mr. Kronstadt said. “Yet we have seen rapid and unprecedented progress in this realm, and defense trade is emerging as a central aspect of the U.S.-India partnership in the new century.”
Some analysts contend the Pentagon views the U.S. defense relationship with India through the prism of containment of China. As defense secretary in the Bush administration, Donald H. Rumsfeld described India as a potential hedge against China.
In the case of Pakistan, the U.S. sees the terrorists destabilizing that country and neighboring Afghanistan as the enemy.
“Strengthening India militarily means equipping it to fight China,” said Ms. Siddiqa. “The U.S. understands that given Pakistan’s relationship with China, it will never be in a position to counterbalance China, that is a role that India is ready to play.”
U.S. officials dismiss such suggestions.
Ms. Flournoy said a “safer, more secure India that is closer to the United States should not be seen a threat to China, and vice versa.”
She added that both India and the U.S. seek a “closer relationship with China, while encouraging Beijing to be more transparent about its military capabilities and intentions.”
Ms. Flournoy said the Pentagon does not view defense sales to India as mere commercial transactions.
“We understand that India is making a strategic as well as an economic choice when it makes defense acquisitions,” she said, adding, “But from a [Defense Department] perspective, these sales are even more important in building a strategic partnership that will allow both countries to cooperate more effectively to protect their mutual security interests in the future.”
U.S. officials also see defense sales to India, with which U.S. forces are becoming increasingly engaged in joint exercises and operations, as a way to have common equipment that would allow for a more seamless cooperation.
India doesn’t really look at it that way, said Ms. Schaffer. India “tends to look on each transaction as if it were unconnected with all the other transactions.”
In its effort to modernize its armed forces, India has been wooing U.S. companies to invest in its defense sector. The inclusion of some Indian firms on a U.S. Entity List has, however, been a bone of contention in the U.S.-India relationship.
On a visit to Washington in June, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma sought the removal of organizations such as the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) and Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) from the list.
ISRO and DRDO were put on this technology export control blacklist following India’s nuclear test in 1998.
Ms. Flournoy said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made export control reform a top priority. “We see streamlining and modernizing our export control system as a national security priority and one that directly affects our ability to build and sustain these key partnerships,” she said.