The ever growing footprint of American companies in the Indian defense market is yet another reaffirmation of that old maxim- when it comes to inter-state relations, there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies- only permanent interests. For a country that didn’t think twice before dispatching the 7th Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India into submission during the 71 war, the fact that it is fast becoming one of the leading defense suppliers for a one time adversary is certainly no mean feat. And reaping reap the multi-billion dollar dividends of the blossoming Indo-American romance are a clutch of leading American firms that have been cornering more than their fair share of contracts over the past five years, with General Electric in particular ,fast emerging as the preferred partner for a number of crucial defense ventures undertaken by the Indian govt . A quick glance at the many big-ticket deals signed by the Detroit based conglomerate reveals why it is gradually becoming a pivotal part of India’s defense modernization drive.
From providing the engines for the LCA indigenous fighter, Tejas, to carrying out repairs and overhaul of various avionics, instruments and hydraulic products for the Hawk Mk132 aircraft, GE has come a long way indeed from the dark days in the not too distant past, which saw a slew of restrictions being imposed on defense cooperation in the wake of the nuclear tests carried out in 1998. In fact, it will be playing a crucial role in the development of development of P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for the Indian navy, having been contracted by Boeing. With the $800 million agreement signed for the supply of G-414 engines already in its bag, it can look forward to a number of other big-ticket contracts as India looks to step up to a $100 bn over the next five to ten years in defense acquisitions as we get set to counter increasingly hostile neighbors on both fronts. So what is it about the Indian market that has caught the eye of one American one firm after the other?
With India increasingly seeking to diversify its sourcing, American firms are unsurprisingly at the top of the list when it comes to acquiring cutting edge technology. Sadly, with our own program not making the kind of progress we would have liked, ‘Born in the USA”’ is fast emerging as the theme song of the Indian defense establishment. To be sure, the Americans still finish at third place as far as defense imports are concerned, with Russia an Israel being the top two, and the number one position is unlikely to fall vacant anytime soon. The Russians, for all their procrastination, are still our most critical partners and even the friendliest of administrations in Washington is unlikely to offer us a nuclear submarine anytime soon, as our friends from Moscow have so graciously done.
However, only the very naïve would be in any hurry to write them off. The Indo-Russian relationship may have stood the test of time but the Americans will surely do everything they can to lure us to their side, with GE promising to lead the way.