Fighter jets, drones on table as Mattis visits key ally India

Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan's security challenges look set to dominate the agenda when US Defence Secretary James Mattis (L) visits India this week. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Fighter jets, drones on table as Mattis visits key ally India

NEW DELHI: Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan’s security look set to dominate the agenda when US Defense Secretary James Mattis visits India this week.
Mattis is scheduled to arrive late Monday and is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his new defense minister, in the first visit by a top US official since Donald Trump became president in January.
“The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia,” a Pentagon statement said.
Trump and Modi met in June in Washington and the visit by Mattis is a sign “the political leadership in both countries place defense cooperation as a top priority,” Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum, told AFP.
Delhi and Washington share concerns about Afghanistan, with Trump announcing a new strategy for the war-torn country last month which cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops.
The president has urged India to increase assistance to Afghanistan’s economy, and has lambasted Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos.”
Mattis “will express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security,” the Pentagon said.
Experts are not expecting any Indian boots on the ground, though there may be some role for Indian military expertise in supporting the US-led training and advisory mission with Afghan security forces.
India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Last year it offered some $1 billion in aid.
Delhi frequently accuses Islamabad of stirring up violence in Afghanistan and harboring militant groups.
In 2016 the United States designated India a “Major Defense Partner” with the aim of increasing military cooperation and cutting red tape to ease defense deals.
Mattis’s predecessor Ashton Carter pushed hard for stronger defense ties and the Trump administration has not signalled any intention of changing course on this.
Trump has praised India for contributing to regional peace and stability and for buying US military equipment.
Mattis is likely to seek to persuade India to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 aircraft in a deal potentially worth $15 billion.
Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the jet fighter to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.
The US manufacturer is competing with Swedish defense giant Saab, whose Gripen E made its maiden flight in June.
India has said it needs at least 100 single-engine fighters to counter the growing air threat posed by China and Pakistan.
Saab and Lockheed have both offered to build the jets locally to comply with Modi’s “Make-in-India” initiative, which aims to cut imports and build a domestic defense industry.
US giant Boeing has also offered to set up a plant in India for production of its F/A 18 Super Hornet aircraft if it wins a deal.
A drone deal for the Indian Navy will also likely be up for discussion, a source familiar with the negotiations told AFP.
“Since Chinese assets have started to dominate the Indian Ocean region, the Trump administration is keen on fast-tracking the acquisition of the drones,” the source said.
Many commentators have said that US-India cooperation is crucial to countering an increasingly assertive China, which has been developing its military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific.
But Afghanistan will be front and center when Mattis meets Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who will host her highest-level foreign delegation since being appointed earlier this month.
The visit comes as the Indian army takes part in a two-week joint military training exercise in the United States to forge closer ties on counter-insurgency, regional security operations and peacekeeping.


India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

Updated 22 September 2018
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India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

  • Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
  • Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”

DELHI: India’s prime minister was under fire over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France after comments by former French President François Hollande. Hollande was quoted as saying Narendra Modi’s government had influenced the choice of a local partner.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
The opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, spent the past year alleging that the deal is a scam, in which India is overpaying for jets and the government is allowing a private company — billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense — to benefit instead of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
On Friday, Hollande, who cleared the intergovernmental deal when he was in office, was quoted as saying New Delhi had put pressure on Dassault to choose Reliance.
“We had no choice. We took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was reported as telling the French news service Mediapart, fueling a political storm in India.
The Indian government, however, has insisted all along that it had nothing to do with Dassault’s decision to work with Reliance Defense.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip the Reliance Defense procured the contract .
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to ...Anil Ambani,” said Mr. Gandhi in a tweet.
Gandhi further tweeted: “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a ... SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defense forces. Modi Ji you dishonored the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Gandhi repeated the charge in a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday.
The BJP, however, says that there is no corruption.
“The fact that two sovereign heads of States negotiated a deal means that there is no room for corruption,” said Sudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
Talking to Arab News Verma emphasized that “the highest integrity was maintained in the deal. Now the Congress is not talking of corruption but favoritism. Merely by saying that Reliance Defense was favored by us would not cut any ice. These are insinuations and are irresponsible.”
Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”
“No matter what the indian government says that perception is that the Indian government gave the offset contract to Anil Ambani, a guy who has no history of producing defense equipment,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi based political analyst.
He added: “The halo around Modi has been severely diminished after the recent revelations. This is something which it would be very difficult to live it down now.”