WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Trump administration has given the green light for the sale of two sophisticated missile defense systems to India to further enhance the security of Air India One aircraft that flies the Prime Minister and President.
The two missile systems with an estimated cost of $190 million, according to the Pentagon, “will support the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping to strengthen the U.S. Indian strategic relationship.”
The notification of the sale of the two systems known as Large Aircraft Infrared Counter Measures (LAIRCM) and Self Protection Suites (SPS) was provided to the U.S. Congress on Feb. 6 by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) for its approval, which is generally a formality.
Meanwhile, a senior Pentagon official acknowledged that Washington and New Delhi are in discussions regarding a potential missile defense collaboration in yet another manifestation of the growing U.S.-India defense and military-to-military partnership.
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, although saying the discussions are part of the strategy the U.S. is pursuing with India to develop “a much deeper and broader relationship,” threw in a caveat that these discussions are still in its nascent state since India with its current significant domestic missile defense capabilities, may be still mulling entering into a cooperative collaboration with foreign actors.
"We have talked to the Indians about missile defense as potentially an area as well to collaborate on. It's early days to determine how far that will go,” he said.
Rood said, "The Indians have substantial capabilities domestically of their own and they've done some development of missile defenses. So, the degree to which they're interested in acquiring or working collaboratively with us in the U.S. remains to be seen.”
The senior Pentagon official was responding to questions about reports that India has expressed an interest in purchasing the American state-of-the-art Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)system.
“We have had excellent meetings and we're expanding our agenda. There's more meat to it, if you will. So, I'm really feeling very good about the overall trajectory of that relationship,” Rood said.
During an interaction at at the Hudson Institute—a D.C. think tank on Feb. 7, he joked, if India at the present time is reticent to enter into a missile defense collaboration, there were a plethora of areas both countries could pursue in the defense cooperation sector.
“If that isn't one of the areas they choose to go in, there's quite a bit of other meaty areas that we can pursue. Maybe I should have chosen a term rather than meaty, quite a few Indians are vegetarian as you know,” he said.
Rood spoke of the “positive relationship” between India and the Pentagon and noted, “we're building on what we hope is a much deeper and broader relationship with them, all the way from the presidential level with Prime Minister Modi on down.”
India’s request for LAIRCM and SPS and the preliminary discussions about potential missile defense collaboration, sources say is part of the exponential cooperation in defense and Indian interest in purchase of aircraft and sophisticated American equipment, which has become the crown jewels of the U.S.-India strategic partnership and made the U.S. the second-largest arms supplier to India.
India has already been recognized as a "major defense partner,” and last year,
the U.S. granted India Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status -- the only South Asian country to get this status and only third Asian country after Japan and South Korea, accorded this status besides Washington’s NATO allies.
The status eases defense procurement and high technology transfers from the U.S. to India, and adding to all of the preceding firsts, at the 2 plus 2 meeting last September, both countries signed the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement), which has been in limbo for years.
On Jan. 16, India’s new ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla met with Rood at the Pentagon and sources said that “expressing satisfaction” over the momentum of the defense partnership and the military to military cooperation and maintaining the level of partnership and “even taking it to the next level,” was a “mutually agreed priority.”
Shringla who has hit the ground running since presenting his credentials to President Donald Trump on Jan. 11, at every interaction he’s had from the U.S.-India Business Council welcoming reception for him last month and the Congressional welcome for him on Feb. 7, has made it a point to emphasize this galloping facet of the partnership.
He has said that the U.S.-India defense cooperation “is stronger than ever before,” reinforced by the inaugural 2+2 Dialogue in September last year, and has pointed out that “since 2008, the US has bagged more than $18 billion in arms contracts with India including the C-17 Globemaster and C-130J transport planes, P-8 (I) maritime reconnaissance aircraft, M777 light-weight howitzer, Harpoon missiles and Apache and Chinook helicopters,” and that Indian private airlines “have placed orders for around 300 Boeing aircrafts to be delivered over the next 5 to 7 years that are worth around $ 39 billion and will create 130,000 American jobs.”
And, all this from a near zero dollars U.S.-India defense cooperation and military sales from a decade ago.
The Pentagon has said that the two LAIRCM and SPS defense systems, would would bring security of Air India One at par with that of Air Force One, and be installed in two Boeing 777 Head-of- State aircraft and unlike in the past these would not be used for commercial purposes, but only for the use of the prime minister and the president.
The LAIRCM program developed by the Pentagon protects large aircraft from man-portable missiles and once installed, “it increases crew-warning time, decreases false alarm rates and automatically counters advanced intermediate range missile systems.”
The counter-measures subsystem usea lasers mounted in pointer-tracker turret assemblies, and when an emergency occurs, it automatically counters advanced intermediate range missile systems with no action required by the crew with the pilot simply being informed that a threat missile was detected and jammed.
The Pentagon said that “India will have no problem absorbing and using this system,” and predicted that “it will improve India's capability to deter regional threats.”
The notification to the Congress also explained that “the SPS will facilitate a more robust capability into areas of increased missile threats.”