Thursday, May 05, 2011

What’s in a Deal?: India and the Connection Between Procurement and Strategy

Before OBL mania descended on the United States a little story out of India caught my attention. India, which had been entertaining the notion purchasing a combination of 126 F-16s and F/A-18s for roughly 10 billion dollars, has decided to nix that option and focus on either French Rafales or European Typhoons. This has rankled the nerves of some, apparently wondering “with friends like this who needs enemies.” The folks over at Shadow Government kind of throw cold water on this sentiment. In doing so they touch on some good points about the connection between what you buy (and from whom you purchase it) and the pursuit of a national strategy.

The blog post in question simply states what should be an obvious point, that a strategically independent India is a good thing, providing some balance in Asia and the Indian Ocean. Also, it’s not as if this snub is part of a noticeable trend. India participates in military-to-military cooperation and exercises with the US more often than it does any other country, and it buys a LOT of our hardware.

The article provides some other reasonable explanations for India shifting its procurement elsewhere: its more experienced with European and Russian aircraft and, with millions of impoverished citizens (400 million don’t have electricity), buying more expensive American aircraft could have a negative domestic political effect. But I think there are other, more strategic concerns that can be derived from this behavior and it is consistent with a number of large developing nations.

The Indian’s likely wanted to spread their purchases around, much like the Brazilians have been attempting to do for the better part of 2009 and 2010. They also likely wanted a robust agreement to transfer technology, and while Ares is reporting that the U.S. offered just such a thing, the Indian’s likely had reason to move their purchase elsewhere. The combination of spreading procurement around and seeking out tech transfers makes a foreign military beholden to no one provider and facilitates the birth of an indigenous defense industry. This aligns with Shadow Government’s notion of a “strategically autonomous” India. While this might be a short run problem for the U.S. government and its defense industry, I think the Indian desire to stand on its own two feet is a good thing. In some ways, this conclusion differs with FP blog post.

As a side note, a commentator on the blog post quoted a Bloomberg story on this issue, where the outdated nature of the U.S. tech offer was outlined, and then says, “If the US was ready to sell advanced jets, it would have won the contract. Expecting to win a $10 billion contract which will create 30,000 jobs while selling 40 year old jets is delusional.” This sentiment might be prevalent amongst the U.S.'s foreign defense clients, as we continue to offer up much older technology than do rivals, while holding in reserve other flashier planes like the F-22 and F-35. Which are apparently too high tech for even our own pilots to use in Libya.

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