US pursuing Indian arms deals in return for nuclear 'waiver'


INDIA:THE US is looking to secure defence contracts with India worth billions of dollars in return for its support in helping the country secure a nuclear waiver earlier this month which ends its 34-year-old global isolation while retaining its strategic weapons capability.

US officials have indicated that Washington expects "reciprocity" in weapons purchases and enhanced strategic ties for helping India secure the one-off waiver earlier this month from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group that controls nuclear trade worldwide.

"I would expect our [joint] capacity to move forward in complex areas," said David Mulford, the US ambassador to Delhi, last week. Establishing civil nuclear ties will doubtlessly have a "positive knock-on" effect on defence and related sensitive matters, he added.

Under US prompting, the NSG has permitted India to conduct civil nuclear commerce without requiring it to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that governs the global atomic weapons regime, as well as retaining its nuclear arsenal.

The waiver unofficially elevates India's status to that of a nuclear weapons state on par with the permanent five UN Security Council members and nuclear weapon powers - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US.

"Other than obvious commercial interests, which are important, the US is keen to invest militarily in India which it believes with Washington's help and hardware can emerge as a counterweight to China's growing might," said retired Indian army lieutenant general VK Kapoor.

Washington is seeking a credible ally in a region where its hold is becoming tenuous. It is anxious for closer ties with India and equipment sales is a vital link in that chain, he added.

Over the next few months India is expected to acquire eight maritime reconnaissance aircraft from Boeing for more than $2 billion (€1.4 billion), varied equipment for its special forces and is considering the purchase of six additional Lockheed-Martin-built C 130J Hercules transport aircraft expected to cost about $1 billion.

Washington is also backing the $10 billion contract for 126 multi-role combat fighters for which Boeing and Lockheed Martin are competing alongside Russian and European manufacturers.

US companies are also bidding to supply India with more than 220 military helicopters to replace ageing platforms in contracts estimated at about $2 billion.

And the prospect of Delhi acquiring Patriot and Harpoon missiles was discussed during Indian defence minister AK Antony's visit to Washington that ended at the weekend.

India is also expected to finalise negotiations with the US on the long-pending logistics support agreement that permits the two militaries reciprocal use of facilities for maintenance, servicing, communications, refuelling and medical care, bringing the two defence establishments closer.