India is in preliminary talks to buy American missile shield systems to protect against a nuclear threat, a British newspaper reported quoting US officials in New Delhi.
Although India's need for greater protection against threats emanating from Pakistan and “other volatile countries in the region” was highlighted in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the talks were reported to have taken place over the last two years.
Officials at the US embassy in New Delhi told the Financial Times that talks so far have been mainly at the technical level.
They said US defence officials had conducted computer simulations with their Indian counterparts to demonstrate the capabilities of such technology.
In addition, two live launches of missiles using the shield system had been watched by experts from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
“India is a partner of ours, and we want to provide it with whatever it needs to protect itself,” the FT quoted an unnamed US embassy official as saying.
“This fits into the overall strategic partnership we are building.”
But, the paper said, India's politicians and defence planners have yet to take a final decision as they undertake what it called an expensive modernisation of the army, replacing ageing Soviet-era military hardware.
Another US official was quoted as saying: “I get the impression the scientists are quite interested, and that some in the strategic policy community… see this as a future tool in their kit bag. But India's political leadership and its strategic community need to decide what their interests and threats are.”
A senior Pakistani official with detailed knowledge of the country's own nuclear programme told the FT that Pakistan “will have to take counter-measures to respond” to any agreement between the US and India over a missile defence system.
“For the past many years, we have been considering the possibility of such an outcome one day,” the official said.
The British Broadcasting Corporation said the system, which was successfully tested in Alaska in December last year, involves radar and anti-missile missiles, or interceptors, which would destroy incoming ballistic missiles.