July 29, 2009 3:03:49 am
The news of the government accepting the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) is an important milestone,as negotiations have been stuck for well over a decade. It could not have been an easy decision,and past governments have been reluctant to sign such an unprecedented blanket agreement. Has the concession regarding place and time of verification now made the agreement acceptable?
In Indian experience,when we acquired weapon systems,we exercised total ownership. It is not apparently so with military equipment of US origin. Historically,the Indian military has exploited its inventory during its technical life,improving operability and efficacy. We have improved,upgraded,repaired,modified and refurbished imported equipment within the country,sometimes engaging expertise from abroad. If we had stuck to the configuration originally delivered and relied only on Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support,we could neither have attacked Tiger Hill successfully during the Kargil war,and nor could aircraft and engines have remained operational for over 40 years. We made helicopters combat-worthy at night; we added sophisticated weapon delivery system,sensors,munitions and electronic warfare systems to the existing fleet. It is desirable that the OEM supports our efforts. The US has not permitted any country procuring their military hardware to modify or technically alter without their consent and participation. Israel is an exception and a unique example that was forced to innovate for its survival. Israeli F-16(I) is possibly the only exception today,where the US granted permission to integrate sensors,weapons and computers of Israeli origin. It is rumoured that this concession was extended in order to scuttle the Israeli Lavi fighter program.
India had been negotiating with the US for access to technology for over 20 years,and has been aware of US regulations. The Indo-US agreement on the support of design and development of LCA was the first breakthrough that happened in 1987-88. We were denied import of inertial navigation system for LCA from the US which got cleared when we accessed a similar system from elsewhere. The import of a supercomputer was denied till we started our own design. US restrictions were lifted when India accessed such technology through other sources or when indigenously developed. India is currently denied import of precision machinery (beyond certain accuracy). Some of the military equipment that was procured from the US was low/medium technology. Some of the high-end ones,such as those related to LCA was closely monitored by the US.
The signing of EUMA may be seen as timely in certain quarters. It is quite possible for one of US contenders such as the F-16 to win the Indian contract. However,EUMA and other related instruments could well prohibit India from choosing sensors and weapon systems of its choice for the aircraft from sources other than the US,forever. While we have adapted sensors and weapon systems of origin other than Russian on the SU-30MKI,the US will not permit India to adapt sub-systems,weapons and munitions of non-US origin,especially from Russia on US machines in Indian inventory. It is also unlikely that the US will permit India to develop and produce spares and other support needs for the aircraft indigenously other than through license manufacture process.
Even if 82 countries have signed such agreement,that is no compulsion for India to sign. The term dual use and cutting-edge technology are vague.The US being a global leader,views technology in strategic terms. American bureaucrats decide what items should be restricted to India. The restriction is applicable not only to supply of complete operational machines like combat aircraft,but also to supply of sub-systems,spares,machinery,raw material,information,publication etc. It is not practical for India to produce all these for verification by the US at a determined place and time. In practice,American inspectors would have to be allowed to visit where the equipment is held and operated. If it is likely to be impossible,then why submit to such a concession? India does have security agreements with practically all countries from where we import,which commits India not to part with these or transfer these and their parts or related documents to a third party without prior approval. Besides,US authorities would query and restrict the size of inventory of spares and material held for their weapon systems in India. The US will not permit any experiment or modifications of their equipment. All these would demand verification and monitoring. EUMA is an instrument that imposes the will of US as seller,on the buyer,over its entire life-cycle. Other than the commitment not to release the equipment to a third party,India must have the freedom to explore and exploit any military system that it may procure from any source.
These are difficult times when the nation is gearing up to face new challenges. Innovation and initiative are the essence. The entry of US giants into the Indian military arena could very well suck up the little initiative that India may have. Importing from the US may be attractive and easy compared to indigenous effort,which is fraught with delays and overruns.
It is difficult for the bureaucracy to visualise the scene from the users point of view. They are not accountable for operations or upkeep. Lip-service notwithstanding,we have not shown the resolve to indigenously develop military systems.
American interests may lie in guarding technology,but it is in our right to innovate and explore. At the political level,we witness a strong convergence of views and interests between US and India. India needs to explore ways of not losing rights to innovate and exploit operational systems. We need the freedom to explore,and yet maintain our credibility as a respectable nation.
The writer is a former air chief marshal.
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