Indo-US relations have come a long way since Swami Vivekananda mesmerised the Americans at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Rising assertive China and its growing hegemony is of concern to both the US and India. India needs high tech support and security tie-up, and the US considers India as a potential counterweight. Many economic, security, and global initiatives, including civilian nuclear cooperation have been initiated. The two have built robust cooperation on counter-terrorism, have eased export controls over dual-use goods and technologies, and reversed the long-standing American opposition to India’s strategic programme. President Barack Obama became the first US President to be the Guest of Honour at the 2015 Republic Day parade. The greatest leap forward has been in military aviation.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) ordered six C-130J-30s in early 2008 for special operations through government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. Six more were ordered later. The four-engine turboprop Lockheed C-130J ‘Super’ Hercules is the latest variant of C-130, with new engines, flight deck, and other systems. Fifteen nations have placed orders of nearly 300 C-130Js. Aircraft can accommodate load up to 17,000 kg. Three armoured personnel carriers, five pallets, 74 stretchers, 92 equipped combat troops or 64 Para troops can be carried. The IAF has landed the aircraft at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), a short landing ground at an altitude of 17,000 feet close to the Chinese border and Karakoram highway. The aircraft played a very important role in the Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Kashmir disaster relief operations.
Ten Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, strategic lift aircraft which also have medical evacuation and airdrop roles, were inducted starting May 2013. The C-17 can operate from short and rough airstrips and will augment India’s ability for inter-theatre movement of troops and equipment. It has a payload of 77.5 tonnes vis-à-vis the IL-76′s 50 tonnes. One more has now been ordered. Eight Boeing P-8I Neptune, the India specific derivative of P-8 Poseidon Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft (ASW) meant for ship interdiction roles, and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) were contracted for Indian Navy to replace the ageing Tupelov Tu-142M. Four additional P-8Is were contracted later. Large numbers of GE F404 and F414 engines were being acquired for LCA programme.
Joint Aviation Training
The first Indo-US Air Force exercise ‘Shiksha’ was conducted in November 1963 after Sino-Indian war of 1962. Four decades later, starting 2004, Cope India series of Indo-US exercises were held at Gwalior, Kalaikunda and Agra to train for regional security and stability. Interoperability of aircraft, combat tactics, mission control by AWACs, aerial refuelling and paradrop were practised. Top-end aircraft were used. The IAF also participates in the Red Flag advanced aerial combat training exercise in the US.
Aircraft on the Way
A USD1.4 billion order has been placed for Boeing’s Apache AH-64 Longbow attack helicopters for the IAF to replace Mi-25/Mi-35 fleet. The AH-64 Apache is a twin-engine helicopter that features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition. The four stub-wing hard-points allow carriage of a mix of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods. Over 1,000 AH-64s have been produced to date. AH-64s have served in conflicts in the Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. It has a service ceiling of 6,400 m giving it high altitude ability. In 2013 Indian government decided that henceforth the Indian Army will also have its attack helicopter fleet and its requirement of 39 Apache helicopters maybe processed separately.
The Boeing CH-47 Chinook was chosen over the Russian Mi-26 as the new heavy-lift helicopter for the IAF. The around USD1.0 billion for 15 helicopters brings new capabilities. Chinook is a twin-engine tandem-rotor helicopter. Over 1,179 have been built till date. Its roles include troop movement, artillery emplacement and battlefield resupply. Aircraft has considerable combat exposure since Vietnam, and in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. The Chinook is being used in air assault missions and inserting troops into fire bases. It can carry up to 55 troops or 12,700 kg cargo.
India and the US recently signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). LEMOA establishes terms, conditions, and procedures for reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies, and services between the armed forces of India and the United States. These include food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services, and port services. These would be used exclusively during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
Recently, the US offered to set up F-18 or F-16 aircraft production facilities as a part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The US is today among the top three arms suppliers and the relationship will only grow over time.