Procurement: America Gives India What It Wants

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July 6, 2014: The U.S. has agreed to allow the export of some high-tech weapons to India and also allow India to produce these weapons in India under license. This will include, for the first time, the export of American weapons and manufacturing technology. The U.S. is offering missile, aircraft and artillery technology for export and licensed manufacture in India by Indian firms.

Since the Cold War ended in 1991 India has wanted Western arms but was unable to get the technology transfers it demanded. This was in large part because the Indians were not trusted and it was feared the tech would end up in Russia. That was because during the Cold War (1947-91) Russia had become the main supplier to India for imported weapons. This was not because Russian stuff was better (it wasn’t) or cheaper (if often was) but because throughout the Cold War India positioned itself as the leader of the unaligned nations. In practice, India leaned to the left and obtained most of its imported weapons from the ideologically similar Soviet Union. It was well known that many Indian government bureaucrats and elected officials were quite friendly towards Russia and, especially with the help of some bribes, were willing to help the Russians steal Western technology.

Since the 1990s the Israelis have demonstrated that it was possible to do joint weapons and military technology development projects with India and transfer technology and manufacturing capability without the Indians stealing the tech and quietly selling it to the Russians. This eventually persuaded the Americans to loosen up and give the Indians what they had long wanted.

India has long been one of the two biggest customers for Russian weapons. Since China was cut off (for stealing Russian tech) over the last decade India has become the major customer (accounting for 25 percent of Russian arms exports). But now Russia is rapidly losing the Indian market, which it has dominated for decades because of quality and support problems that seem to resist all efforts at fixing.

The gradual disappearance of Russian weapons from India comes after a half century of Russia dominating the Indian weapons market. It all began in the early 1960s when the modernization of the Indian armed forces took place with Russian assistance. By the end of the Cold War in 1991, seventy percent of Indian Army tanks and artillery, eighty percent of warplanes, and eighty-five percent of warships were Russian. That has since declined by over twenty percent as India chooses more expensive but more effective and reliable Western gear. Russia has not been able to change a lot of old habits quickly and completely and their flourishing arms export business with India is disappearing.

India has been very unhappy with Russian sloppiness in handling large projects, like refurbishing a decommissioned Cold War era carrier for them. This project has been a financial disaster for India. Worse yet, as India has bought more Western (Israeli, European, and American) weapons they have noted the differences in performance and service. Even Russia has had a hard time absorbing Western tech and continues to lag behind the West in military equipment effectiveness and reliability. India has found that Western tech is not only superior but transfers more readily than the Russian stuff and is more of a benefit to the overall Indian economy. First France, then Israel, and now the United States has reached agreements for India to license weapons for manufacture in India and to transfer new technology to make that possible.

 

 


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