Source: The Hitavada      Date: 07 Feb 2019 12:22:54

A FTER offering to shift F-16 fighter aircraft production line from the United States to India, leading defence manufacturing firm of the US, Lockheed Martin, has now sought to enter India’s military modernisation through a strategic, ‘game-changing’ international partnership. Once the proposal is ratified at the top level in New Delhi the partnership can open up new frontiers for India to build advanced and scaleable defence capabilities. This is a major strategic shift in the United States’ outlook towards India as a reliable partner in Asian region. Lockheed Martin’s proposal must have been weighed through various prisms in Washington before the company was allowed to propose a keen interest in India’s defence modernisation. 

Lockheed Martin had originally planned to set up the F-16 plant in Fort Worth, Texas. However, in a significant gesture the firm has offered to shift the production line to India. On the face of it, the move seems to undermine US President Mr. Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy but it seems a calculated strategy by Washington to give Lockheed Martin a go-ahead. The metaphor of Lockheed Martin’s ‘game-changing’ defence partnership proposal has to be seen in the context of the United States’ keen focus on taking India as a close partner in its bid to curb China’s imperialistic ambitions, especially its growing aggressive postures in South Asia.

Mr. Trump’s Lockheed Martin card for a long-term international defence partnership with India is based on two factors -- Russia and China. Keeping India entrenched in the heart of its defence policy, the United States is looking at a strong partner that does not tilt too much towards Russia for its arms requirement and also fortifies itself with advanced weaponry to act as a formidable counter to China. In both the scenarios it is India that stands to gain from the US policy towards Moscow and Beijing.

The United Nations has already envisaged a big benefit for Indian economy in the ongoing trade war between the US and China. Same will be the case in defence sector where India is desperately seeking to shore up the combat capabilities of its forces. New Delhi is shrewdly using the advantageous position to leverage various deals that others are finding hard to escape stringent sanctions from the United States.

The inking of S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system deal worth USD 5 billion with Russia was classic diplomatic manoeuvering as it came when Mr. Trump was vehemently persuading countries against buying Russian defence equipment and had invoked a legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). That India managed to convey its security concerns vis-a-vis China’s arsenal building to the US was reaffirmation of India’s firm position in the United States’ security policy. Same goes with the waiver India obtained over oil imports from Iran which is facing, perhaps, backbreaking sanctions from the US over a failed nuclear deal.

India is central to Mr. Trump’s Indo-Pacific and South Asia policies due to its vantage geopolitical position. India’s defence capabilities and defence-industrial needs, too, are in Washington’s due considerations. Lockheed Martin’s proposed partnerships with India for new fighter aircraft, helicopters and other platforms are ideally suited for the company not only financially but also in implementation of US policy of having a strong partner in South Asia.

The defence partnership proposals and shifting of F-16 fighter jet production line will also be a boost for Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ project and also to the problem of unemployment. These defence ties hold the promise of a defence industrial base and jobs for thousands.