India is on a massive military spending spree at the moment and for all the talk of the special relationship being developed with the US, its Russia that are getting the biggest spoils. Last week, they announced an imminent deal for 29 MIG-29k worth $1.2 billion. The two countries are also on the verge of signing a $8-10 billion deal to jointly develop Russia’s new PAK-FA T-50, which is expected to rival the US’ planned F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (not sure what the makers of that website were thinking with their font – trying to cheery up the fact that it’s going to be most “lethal aircraft ever used” I guess).
PAK-FA T-50 promotional video. Includes lovely uplifting music.
Part of the advantage of continuing to deal with the Russians is that deals don’t come with all the baggage that the US piles on. Last week’s visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was seen as more proof of their close ties, but behind the stirring speeches, the two countries are finding it difficult to make agreements stick.
There are 2 agreements that the US have been trying to get India to sign for several years. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMoA) and the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) have been on the table since 2002 and 2005, respectively, but the Indians have still not agreed to sign. Without them, the US can provide the hardware but not all the useful technology that goes with them, like cryptologic information for the C-130Js that India has bought. It was quite a battle to get India to sign the End-Use Monitoring Agreement last July, that allows the US to inspect equipment in India after it has been sold.
India does not like the idea of US intrusion after its purchases, and its also trying to get the US to stop putting restrictions on its own defence export industry. Mr Gates was quick to assure Indian Defence Minister AK Anthony that something would be done about this soon.
Its a difficult situation for the US, which is desperate to grab a slice of the reported $31 billion India plans to spend on aircraft in the next few years (and all the other military, nuclear and civilian technology it will buy), but which has a lot of fiddly rules about who buys what and how. Despite the shift away from total dependence on Russia, India fiercely guards its independence and dislikes anything that suggests it cannot be trusted with any of its new gizmos. Its growing reserves of cash also make it a tough negotiator, which the more opaque Russian administration is in a better position to cater to than the more open and conflicting political interests of its counterparts in Washington. With all that money on the table, however, you can expect the US won’t find it too galling to bend to Indian pressure.