Yesterday, President Obama was in India for Republic Day, which makes sense since its parade included a C-17 Globemaster III and the P-8 Poseidon, the most advanced maritime patrol and transport aircraft in the world, both imported from the U.S. and flying with Indian flags on their tails.
Although the weather was a major issue, with the flypast being on the verge of cancellation all morning, the waves of aircraft that did fly overhead were a good metaphor for India's 'unique' relationship as a mega arms buyer on the world stage. With some of the most advanced Russian Flankers and Fulcrums in the world, along with a grab-bag of older Russian and European gear, India remains truly anyone's customer when it comes to military hardware (well, aside from China).
Now, with America's relationship with India growing tighter and with hundreds of billions of dollars of trade occurring between the two nations, not to mention increasingly common strategic interests, the door may be flung open for India to receive some of America's most potent and technologically advanced weaponry.
India's Russian-built front line heavy fighter, the Su-30MKI, has been plagued with low availability rates, quality issues and a lack of spare parts, with groundings happening on a regular occurrence. These troubles continue to occur while the Indian Air Force is about to bet big on yet another Russian fighter development, the Sukhoi T-50 based PAK-FA, an aircraft that India is said to already be doubting when it comes to performance and its supposed stealth capabilities. This combined with years of delays surrounding the one-time much sought after MMRCA contract that was supposed to see over one hundred French Dassault Rafales delivered in Indian Air Force colors, there may result in a chance for future American fighter sales. In particular the F-35.
By literally ringing China with F-35 operators, there are certain synergies when it comes to sustainment, logistics, interoperability and lethality that cannot be denied. Such a strategy could act as a counter-balance in the region in relation to increased Chinese might and weapons capabilities. Having multiple F-35 users encircling the Chinese mainland and its regional interests would allow for prolonged advanced fighter operations over a massively diffused geographical region during times of conflict. As of now, F-35 countries in the region include Korea, Japan to the northeast and east and Australia to the south. India could one day act as key 'western anchor' for such a strategy.
Just as the strange formations of Russian and American advanced combat aircraft suddenly appeared out of the fog high above New Delhi yesterday, more surprises may very well be on the way when it comes to India's growing military might, its blooming relationship with the U.S. and Russia's increasingly isolated place on the world stage. There is nearly every reason imaginable for Washington to give every incentive it can to begin replacing Russian manufacturers MiG and Sukhoi with Lockheed and Boeing when it comes to India's primary air combat force, even if this includes some sensitive technological exchanges.
In fact, this exchange is already happening to some degree, with India working with the U.S. on key engine and unmanned technologies. Even America's 'bleeding edge' Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), a system being designed to replace steam catapults on aircraft carriers, could end up being a joint program between the two nations, with India showing great interest in the project. Just the fact that India will have multiple aircraft carriers in the future, some with catapults, is a major attraction that could draw America closer to India strategically. Having Indian carriers patrol the region loaded with U.S. technology would be an inexpensive, 'soft power' way to help counter Chinese naval ambitions.
In the end, eroding away one of Russia's biggest arms importers is surely an attractive move for Washington considering the harsh economic sanctions and geopolitical isolation already levered on Moscow. But more so, surrounding China with advanced western weaponry and the unique infrastructure that it depends on to operate over long periods of time while also having India's forces integrate into a regional coalition force, would be a huge strategic shift for China to absorb.
All this makes a much tighter strategic partnership with India a fruit too sweet for Washington to ignore.
Pictures Via AP
Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com