February 27, 2024

India’s recalibration of strategic calculus. Drones ,Jet engines and beyond

Source – IADN

The strategic clinch between India and the US just got tighter on Thursday. The “landmark” pact to coproduce GE­F414 fighter jet engines and the proposed mega deal for top­notch armed MQ­9B Predator or Reaper drones are aimed at further bolstering bilateral military ties as well as taking their defence­industrial collaboration to a new level from the existing buyer-seller relationship.

The two projects underscore India’s hardnosed recalibration of its strategic calculus due to China’s muscleflexing along the land borders and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well as its expanding alliance with Russia, which has been India’s largest arms supplier for decades. The US, of course, is more than a willing partner in this, given its own strategic compulsions visà-vis China and Russia.

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden, after their bilateral meeting, in fact, stressed the role being played by the Quad countries (India, US, Japan and Australia) to ensure “a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific” in the backdrop of China’s belligerence in the region Modi said the MoU inked between General Electric Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to coproduce the GEF414 jet engines in India was a “landmark agreement” that will generate employment opportunities in both countries.

It will provide impetus to the new bilateral defence­-industrial roadmap, he added. Biden, in turn, said, “We are growing our defence partnership with more joint exercises, more cooperation between our defence industries, and more consultation and coordination across all domains.”

India’s proposed $3.5 billion acquisition of the 31 MQ­9B high­altitude, long­endurance drones — 15 SeaGuardians for Navy and eight SkyGuardians each for Army and IAF — under the US government’s foreign military sales (FMS) programme will eventually have to be cleared by the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before the final contract is inked

The MQ­9B drones, which have nine “hard points” to carry missiles and smart bombs and can fly around 40 hours at a stretch, will help India conduct long­range ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and strike missions both in the IOR as well as the land frontiers with China and Pakistan. The MoU between to co­-produce the GE­F414 engines in India will also have to be sealed with a formal contract.

Describing the MoU as “a major milestone”, GE said “it continues to work with the US government to receive the necessary export authorization” for the “potential joint production” of the jet engines that will power the Tejas Mark­2 fighters. With the US government’s approval process still under way, which includes notifying the US Congress, the GE statement did not go into the specifics of the project, including the level of transfer of technology (ToT) that will be transferred to HAL.

The US has strict controls over which domestic military technology can be shared or sold to other countries. India, on its part, expects the TOT to rise over 80% in the production cycle for the GEF414 INS6 turbo­fan engines in the 98 kilonewton thrust class, as was reported by TOI earlier. The CCS in August last year had cleared the development of the Tejas Mark­2 fighters at an overall cost of over Rs 9,000 crore.
IAF plans to induct at least six squadrons (110­120) of Tejas Mark­2, which will have a longer combat range and greater weapon­carrying capacity than the existing Tejas Mark­1 jets, which have the older GE­F404 engines procured without ToT. The first two squadrons of the indigenous fifth­generation stealth AMCA (advanced medium combat aircraft) to be developed in the coming years are also likely to have GE­F414 engines. The next five AMCA Mark­2 squadrons, in turn, will have a more powerful 110 kilonewton engine to be developed with foreign collaboration.
GE chairman H Lawrence Culp Jr said in the statement, “This is a historic agreement made possible by our long-standing partnership with India and HAL. We are proud to play a role in advancing President Biden and PM Modi’s vision of closer coordination between the two nations.”
The GE has till now delivered 75 GE­F404 engines, while another 99 are on order, for the Tejas Mark­1 fighters. It has also delivered eight GE­F414 engines as part of the ongoing development program for Tejas Mark­2. “GE will also continue to collaborate with the Indian government on the AMCA Mark­2 engine program,” it added.

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