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United States curbs on Javelin missile sale cloud Indo-US relationship

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

A dangerous flashpoint in United States-India relations faces visiting US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, who faces tough questions from Indian officials on Tuesday. The US State Department has slashed India’s request for Javelin anti-tank missiles, offering instead a smaller quantity that Washington sources say is “less than half of what India has requested for.”

Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials are furious that Washington, an avowed strategic partner, has pared down India’s requirement of Javelin missiles, even while arguing that defence sales are a cornerstone of the US-Indian strategic relationship.

“This (US reduced offer) is a deal killer. Washington will not dictate the quantity of weaponry we need. This will severely damage the prospects of US vendors in future arms contracts,” a South Block official told Business Standard.

This unexpected rebuff stems from the US Department of Political-Military Affairs, a State Department office that examines the political fallout of proposed US arms sales. Pol-Mil Affairs, as this department is called, often nixes or curtails arms sales because they might “destabilise the regional military balance.”

Neither the US Embassy in New Delhi, nor the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), is prepared to reveal the reason provided by Washington for slashing the Indian request. The Ministry of External Affairs and the MoD have not responded to requests for comments.

US Embassy spokesperson, Peter Vrooman, said, “We don’t discuss individual sales. Secretary Panetta looks forward to having an exchange with the Government of India on a broad range of issues.”

Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, had told Business Standard, in an exclusive interaction during his visit to New Delhi on April 17, that Washington had cleared the transfer of technology for manufacturing the Javelin missile in India. Given that readiness to transfer high-end technology, the curbs placed by Washington on the missile numbers remain inexplicable.

The FGM-148 Javelin, built by US companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, is one of the two anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) that the Indian Army is evaluating for its 350-odd infantry battalions. The other is the Spike, built by Israeli company, Rafael. These are both shoulder-launched, “fire-and-forget” ATGMs, which means that they autonomously track their targets after they are fired by a two-man crew.

Both missiles are scheduled to come to India for user evaluation trials later this year. However, the Javelin has already impressed the Indian Army. During joint exercises with the US Army, Indian missile crews have fired ten Javelin missiles. All ten hit their targets.

The US industry, which has heavy stakes in a successful Javelin sale to India, is sharply critical of the State Department for curtailing the Indian request. “Offering a reduced number of missiles will almost certainly kill the Javelin deal; in fact it seems to almost be designed to be so. It seems as if Hillary Clinton herself remains unconvinced about the India relationship and is trying to set a different tone,” complains an industry member.

A key US frustration in the defence relationship has been New Delhi’s refusal to sign three defence cooperation agreements that Washington has pressed for: a Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA); a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA); and a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). New Delhi believes that signing these agreements would put it overtly in the US camp, diluting its “multi-aligned” foreign policy that emphasises strong relations with multiple foreign powers.

There are also growing frustrations in Washington over India’s resistance to allow US “end-user” inspections of weaponry sold to Indian security forces. New Delhi regards end-user monitoring as a violation of sovereignty.

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First Published: Tue, June 05 2012. 00:14 IST
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