The US said on Tuesday it views high technology defence sales to India as a “cornerstone” of the strategic partnership between the two countries, in an expression of intent never spelt out so clearly before.
This was conveyed by US secretary of commerce Gary Locke to Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar at a meeting here to prepare for a high-technology trade mission he is taking to India in February.
While pitching for $10 billion worth of fighter jets India plans to buy, Locke told Shankar, “The US government views high technology defence sales as a cornerstone of the US-India strategic partnership.”
“And that the United States is a willing and capable defence partner,” he told Shankar according to a statement issued by the department of commerce.
Two US firms are in the race for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft India has been shopping around for to both replace ageing aircraft and boost numbers. They are Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
“This seems like a clear signal that high-tech defense items will be sold to India now,” said Sunil Dasgputa, coauthor of a recent book on the modernisation of India’s military called “Arming without aiming”.
Dasgupta argues that for India military purchase has always been the cornerstone of its foreign policy — the India-Soviet Friendship Treaty being a case in point. Its strategic partnership with the US fits the template.
It will also help the US get export orders to create jobs, a high priority for the Obama administration as it struggles with unemployment figures — though the December count was a significant improvement over the previous one.
The US companies know where the business is. Seventy of them have applied to be on Locke’s trade mission, the department of commerce said. Not all of them will go though.
The number is likely to be 25 or 30.
Apart from manufacturers of defense items, the trade mission will include companies dealing with civil-nuclear trade, security, civil aviation, and information and communications technology.
Locke had announced his intention to bring this mission while on tour of India last November with President Barack Obama.
It’s not being firmed up for a five-day tour covering three Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
The US is keen to increase exports to India and that was clearly the main focus of the Obama visit. And the numbers are indeed looking good for them — up 15.2 per cent through the first 10 months of 2010 and projected to surpass $19 billion for the entire year — an all-time high.
“Advanced technologies, including aerospace, specialized materials, information and communications technologies, electronics and flexible manufacturing systems underpinned this growth,” said the statement.