Geopolitics and Inter-operability Key Challenges for Defence Capability Building
Despite the much vaunted Make in India in Defence, front line platforms and technologies for the Indian Armed Forces will continue to be imported from foreign strategic partners either on government to government basis or through the commercial competitive bidding process.
India in turn is attempting to spread the risk of dependency on a single country or supplier by contracting from varied partners – Russia, United States, France, Israel and UK amongst others.
Global defence majors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Air Bus Dassault Aviation and Russia’s Rosoboronexport apart from a clutch of Israel companies are regulars on the Indian procurement list which was skewed in favour of Moscow so far.
Given experience of impact of breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s India is hedging by ensuring that orders for combat systems are evenly spread.
Strategic and commercial considerations on the part of foreign partners and suppliers are leading to a fierce competition to woo the Indian armed forces and Ministry of Defence.
United States has a clear objective of roping in India as a core strategic partner if not an ally in the long term.
Various moves such as the bi-partisan nomination of India as a Major Defence Partner by the US Congress is part of this enterprise which was also flagged in the recent Fact Sheet issued by the US Department of State.
The United States is also employing coercive pressure such as the threat of sanctions in case India continues to buy Russian equipment the latest move being the imposition of CAATSA for contracting of the S 400 from Russia.
The United States has offered alternate systems as the THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defence system but this does not meet the operational requirement nor is cost effective.
U.S.’s top South Asia diplomat, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in a hearing on ‘U.S. Interest in South Asia and FY 2020 Budget’ in June (2019) said with reference to India, “At (a) certain point a strategic choice has to be made about partnerships and a strategic choice about what weapons systems and platforms a country is going to adopt,” and went on to add, “[this could] effectively could limit India’s ability to increase our own interoperability.”
The procurement of S 400 by India from Russia would imply a conflict with information and data shared with weapons systems acquired by the United States after the two countries have inked the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) last year. Thus information from various American sensors, including satellite, UAVs, etc will not be made available as this could be compromised where there is possibility of access by the Russian S 400.
This restriction will also be applicable on NATO equipment, though if this will include the present fighters held is not clear.
The problem of intercommunications and interoperability of weapons platforms procured has been a perennial issue for the Indian Armed Force. This has been resolved through rigging of communications, thus even as India procured the C 17 and C 130 J before signing the COMCASA, intercommunication was being ensured in exercises as Malabar possibly with limited sharing of intelligence
With COMCASA advanced sharing of intelligence is possible which may be denied on a system that commonly shares information with S 400 in the future.
Thus as India is reportedly going in for 30 Sea Guardian or Predator-B armed drones, 10 each for the three services, there would be substantial challenges of matching demands from key strategic partners and inter-operability which may lead to delay in defence acquisitions and thus capability building.