Contact Persons' Choice Sends Out Mixed Signals

Earlier mechanism had NSA Menon interacting with Pentagon Dy Secy

NEW DELHI:  India and the US on Friday agreed to move forward on their defence trade by appointing officials to handle an initiative aimed at joint development and co-production of weapons.

India named its Defence Production Secretary to be the “contact person” for the ‘Defence Technology and Trade Initiative’ (DTTI), while the US named its Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Licensing at the Pentagon, Frank Kendall, to be its “contact person”.

The decision came at a meeting between Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and his US counterpart Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel here. Hagel is in India for the first time as US Defence Secretary and his three-day visit began on Thursday.

However, the naming of officials to deal with the DTTI has sent out a mixed signal, as the initiative was earlier headed by then National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon during previous UPA regime, while the US had its Pentagon Deputy Secretary Ashton B Carter co-heading it.

In that sense, the appointment of the Defence Production Secretary on the Indian side and an Under Secretary from the American side is being seen as downgrading of the initiative, though Defence Ministry officials described as “a major step” the naming of the officials, directly dealing with co-development and co-production in their respective countries, to handle the DTTI.

When the DTTI was launched in 2012, the two sides had agreed to take about a year to identify products that they wanted to co-develop and co-produce, with offers from the US, including the Javelin anti-tank guided missile for the Indian Army, Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin MH-60 Romeo helicopter for the Navy and BAE Systems Mk45 127mm naval gun, also for the Navy.

But the process of identifying the products they wanted to collaborate on is yet to begin, after the India-US ties slowed during the last 10 months of the UPA government.

Since 2003, the US has supplied defence items worth over `50,000 crore to India, including C-17 strategic heavy lift planes, C-130J special operations planes, P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance planes, INS Jalashwa (erstwhile USS Trenton) landing pontoon dock, Harpoon anti-submarine missiles and weapon locating radars.

Thus, it has now closer to emerging as the third largest arms supplier to India after Russia and Israel.

In the meeting Hagel had with Jaitley, both sides also decided to initiate steps for the extension of the ‘New Framework for the United States-India Defence Relationship’ well before it expires in July 2015.

Hagel invited Jaitley to visit the Pentagon in October this year, when he would be visiting Washington to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in his capacity as the Finance Minister, which was accepted.

Apart from his meeting with Modi and Jaitley, Hagel also met with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

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The New Indian Express