From jet engines to RPAS: How US is sharpening India’s edge in defence | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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From jet engines to RPAS: How US is sharpening India’s edge in defence

ByRahul Singh, New Delhi
Jul 10, 2023 01:55 AM IST

India is set to sign 2 major defense deals with the US, worth over $4 billion, for jet engines and weaponized remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

The upcoming mega deals with the United States for jet engines and weaponised remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) have turned the spotlight on the US’s role in equipping the Indian military with modern weapons and systems, the capability boost it has provided to the armed forces, and the country’s attempts to diversify its arms purchases, officials aware of the matter said on Sunday.

31 MQ-9B General Atomics RPAS.(File) PREMIUM
31 MQ-9B General Atomics RPAS.(File)

Read here: India to negotiate deal with US for 31 drones: Officials

The two proposed deals with a combined value of more than $4 billion also underline India’s push for indigenisation as they will involve transfer of technology in areas where the country has struggled to achieve a breakthrough, the officials said asking not to be named.

The acquisition of 31 MQ-9B General Atomics RPAS and the production of General Electric’s F414 engines in the country came into sharp focus during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the US in June.

The US-origin platforms currently in the Indian armed forces include the C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lifters, C-130J special operations aircraft, P-8I submarine hunter planes, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters, MH-60R naval helicopters, and M777 ultra-light howitzers. Each of these platforms has helped India fill critical capability gaps and sharpen its military edge, the officials said.

Read here: India-US roadmap for defence industrial cooperation focus area of PM Modi’s visit

These platforms were gradually inducted into the armed forces 2011 onwards and have a combined value of more than $16 billion. The C-17s, C-130Js, P-8Is, Chinooks, Apaches and the M777s have played a key role in strengthening the military’s posture in the Ladakh sector in the backdrop of the lingering border row with China along the Line of Actual Control, the officials said. India has also bought Sig Sauer assault rifles for its troops from the US.

The India-US defence relationship is on an upward trajectory, and weapons and systems bought from the US during the last decade have significantly boosted India’s capabilities to take on the challenges it faces, said Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

“But what we need now is transfer of critical technologies to produce weapons and systems in the country. It remains to be seen what kind of technology transfer the jet engine and drone deals will involve. Mere licensed production and assembly of platforms isn’t enough to power the indigenisation drive,” Golani said.

The jet engine and drone deals with the US are being negotiated at a time when the US is attempting to wean India away from its dependence on Russian military hardware in the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and offering to provide alternatives for the supply of weapons, systems and spares to keep the Indian armed forces battle ready.

The deal between the world’s leading aircraft engine maker GE Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to produce fighter jet engines in the country for the Tejas light combat aircraft Mk2 will involve 80% technology transfer, is estimated to be worth around $1 billion, and will result in the new fighter jet having an indigenous content of around 75%.

The deal to produce 99 F414 engines under licence is likely to be signed during the current financial year, and the first lot of engines will be made in India three years thereafter. The technology transfer will cover 11 critical areas many of which were entirely off-limits more than a decade ago when GE Aerospace, and India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) began talks on the possible production of the engines in the country.

Back then, the US agreed to only 58% technology transfer, keeping a string of key engine technologies out of India’s reach, as previously reported by HT.

India will also negotiate a higher element of transfer of technology in the drone deal (estimated to be worth $3 billion) it is pursuing with the US to boost the military’s strength. India is looking at doubling the element of technology transfer that is currently on offer --- from 8-9% to 15% to 20%,

To be assembled in India, the versatile platform will have the capability to strike targets with its on-board weapons, it will be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and its other roles include electronic warfare, defensive counter air and airborne early warning.

Building defence capabilities is a top priority for India. The country was the fourth biggest military spender in the world in 2022 after the US, China and Russia, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report published in April.

In February, India set aside 5.93 lakh crore for defence spending in this year’s budget, including a capital outlay of 1.62 lakh crore for the military’s modernisation. (The budget also includes a revenue expenditure of 2.7 lakh crore and pension outlay of 1.38 lakh crore.)

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India allocated 5.25 lakh crore for military spending in last year’s budget, 4.78 lakh crore in 2021-22, and 4.71 lakh crore the year before.

India has also taken several steps over the last four to five years to boost self-reliance in defence. These include creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware, increasing foreign direct investment from 49% to 74%, and notifying hundreds of weapons and systems that cannot be imported.

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