US assured of level-playing field in Indian arms market

February 27th, 2008 - 9:11 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of F-16

New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) With the Indian armed forces eyeing purchases worth Rs.155 billion ($4 billion), New Delhi Wednesday assured Washington of a level playing field, even as the two countries resolved to remove differences on a series of bilateral agreements that will ensure greater military-military interaction. “America will find a level-playing field,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony told his visiting US counterpart Robert Gates at their meeting here, an official said, adding: “It was an extremely constructive interaction.”

On his part, Gates expressed happiness over a $1.1 billion Indian Air Force (IAF) order for six Hercules C-130J transport aircraft and hoped American companies would get a “fair chance” in bidding for the 126 multi-role combat aircraft the air force intends to purchase, the official added.

Antony assured Gates that the two US contenders - the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-16 - would be given equal opportunity along with the four other aircraft in the fray.

“Gates didn’t push for arms sales but saw the distinct possibility of this opening up. He was keen on increasing the scope of our defence cooperation,” the official said.

On his part, Antony pointed to the close India-US engagement through forums like the Defence Policy Group, the Joint Working Group on Defence, the Military Cooperation Group, the Joint Technical Group and the Executive Steering Groups at the military-military level, saying that all of them had been meeting “without slippages”.

“This degree of engagement hardly exists with other countries,” Gates responded.

Differences, however, persist on three agreements the US wants India to sign and Antony assured Gates these would soon be resolved, the official said.

Negotiations on an end-user agreement governing India’s purchases of US military hardware “are almost through but some clauses relating to on-site inspection need to be reworked”, he added.

“It’s like this: we purchase night vision glasses that are issued to troops on the border. Obviously, we would not like the Americans to visit these areas but we can work our way around this.

“They are prepared to meet us more than halfway to address our concerns. There is no hard line on this. Perhaps we can give them guarantees or access to records,” the official pointed out.

“We have sent a draft to the US and our embassy in Washington will now take the process forward,” he added.

The end-user agreement is meant to ensure that US military hardware is not re-exported to countries against which Washington has imposed sanctions.

In the case of the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the official said: “We need to discuss this once more. There is no fundamental objection but we need to understand fully what is involved.

“We have to ensure our own security is not compromised,” he added, even as he admitted to the benefits of such an agreement when Indian and US forces conduct war games or stage joint missions in the wake of natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In the case of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the official said Antony told Gates that India “needs to consider all aspects and will revert in due course”.

The LSA will enable the Indian armed forces access fuel, food and non-lethal equipment while operating overseas in cashless transactions that will be balanced at the end of the year by granting US forces the same facilities while transiting through India.

In reply to a question, the official said that the US had “never offered” the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk that is about to be decommissioned.

“In any case, it’s not feasible for us to buy a 90,000 tonne ship as this would require extensive refitting at our docks,” he pointed out.

Significantly, there were no discussions on a joint missile defence system that the US is keen on developing with India.

“We’re just beginning to talk about perhaps conducting a joint analysis about what India’s needs would be in the realm of missile defence and where cooperation between us might help advance that,” Gates was quoted as saying ahead of the meeting with Antony.

“We did not discuss this,” the official said firmly.

Earlier, Gates laid a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial to the unknown soldier at India Gate. He was also presented a guard of honour when he arrived at the defence ministry at South Block for the meeting with Antony.

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