Analysis 06-26-2023


Analyzing India/US defense Ties
What do they really mean?


This was a good week as far as US/Indian relations go.  Indian Prime Minister Modi was well received by Americans, especially the Indian expatriate community.   There was also a 58-point joint statement that highlighted agreements, including removing tariffs on US agricultural products.  There were also agreements on space and technology.

One of the US goals was to increase military cooperation to wean India from its decade’s long reliance on Russian defense equipment, even though India fields some NATO fighter aircraft and US helicopters and cargo aircraft.

Although there were agreements to sell India US manufactured drones and cooperate in jet fighter engine development, much of the defense agreement was vague.  The US Navy now has access to Indian ports for repairs and will join in joint military exercises.

The US, however, will remain careful about sharing American technology.  India has been accused of stealing US technology andthere is the fear that US technology will end up in the hands of India’s decades long partner, Russia.

But how valuable is this new cooperation?  Although India dominates the vast Indian Ocean, it remains a backwater in global geopolitics.  It borders and patrols the Arabian Sea, which is a major petroleum supply route.  It also borders the western end of the Strait of Malacca, which is a major sea route.

But much of the current concern is with China, a historic opponent of India, and China’s attempt to claim control of the South China Sea.  This has encouraged India, once the major “nonaligned” nation during the Cold War to increase its cooperation with other nations.

India has joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes India, the US, Japan, and Australia.  Part of that agreement allows for logistical support of US and other Quad nations, either for repairs or fresh food for naval vessels. The US is also selling the US made armed drone MQ-9B.

Access to Indian shipyards will be important.  In the past, unforeseen ship damage had to be repaired in the US.  Now some ship repair can be done in India, which can save months in lost deployment time.

India’s navy isn’t a major force but must be respected.  It has two aircraft carriers, which have been bedeviled by problems.  The INS Vikrant took over 18 years to build and has yet to finish its flight trials.

The INS Vikramaditya is a former Soviet carrier that has been modified.

The Indian Navy also has destroyers and frigates to operate independently or as part of a carrier strike force.

The Indian Navy is a blue water navy that has deployed in the Mediterranean and the South China Sea.  It also patrols against pirates around the Arabian Sea and Strait of Malacca.

The Indian Navy also holds naval exercises with other nations.  It carried out exercises with the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in 2021.  In addition to working with the UK carrier strike group, it operated alongside American and Dutch warships.  It also operated with an American Marine fighter Attack Squadron.  Exercises included anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-surface drills.

One Indian weapon system that hasn’t been mentioned but is of note is its nuclear arsenal.  In addition to land based nuclear weapons, India has the Arihant class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.  India holds the distinction of being the first built by a country other than one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Although the Indian Navy doesn’t have the “sea legs” (only 45 days at sea) of American or British ships, its ability to deploy throughout the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the South China Sea, makes it an ideal back up to the more capable navies of the US, UK, and Japan in case of hostilities.

One advantage of the Indian Navy is that it follows the Western Design concept of more survival ships.  This means that Indian ships can survive better in hostile conditions than lighter Chinese ships.


The future of the India – US defense alliance

US – Indian relations have gone through ups and downs over the seven decades of Indian independence.  During the premiership of Indira Gandhi, India grew closer to the Soviet Union, and she supported the USSR frequently in the UN.

Later Prime Ministers were more consolatory towards the US.  Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made it a policy to become more independent of the USSR and hosted American President Reagan in 1985.

That means much depends on future Indian Prime Ministers and American politicians’ tolerance of Indian suppression of government opponents.

Despite the euphoria surrounding the Modi visit, many are voicing concern about India’s failure to support human rights.

India ranks below Pakistan and Afghanistan as far as press freedom goes.  Modi also carried out pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat when he oversaw Guujarat.   He is also up for reelection within a year and his party lost in by elections in Karnataka.

There is also growing violence in Manipur.

No wonder Modi wanted smooth publicity to visit the US.

Although the agreements between the US and India make long term friendship more possible, the future is not guaranteed.  India relies on Russia for fuel made cheap by the embargo on Russian oil.  Russia has also made India’s economy reliant on Russia by not always requiring “hard currencies” in international trade.

The future of the relationship depends on the elections in India.  Will the US president turn a blind eye to India’s human rightsviolations?  Will the Indian PM try to improve India’s HR record?

Will India continue to buy Russian weapons, even though they have shown some flaws in the Ukraine War.  Will India turn towards the West as Russia is falling behind in arms deliveries to India?

There are a lot of variables in the future of US-Indian relations.