Saturday, October 30, 2010
US strips IAF plane
In just over four weeks from now, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will take delivery of its first American-built C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft at a facility in Georgia, US. Part of a 2008 deal worth $ 964 million for six aircraft, the IAF C-130J will be the first US military aircraft India has procured in over four decades since it flew the American Douglas Dakota and Fairchild Packet in the 1960s.
But there is something amiss. The contract document, a copy of which is with Headlines Today, reveals five specific pieces of high-end equipment, that the US has stripped from the aircraft, being sold to India. This is a direct consequence of New Delhi's reluctance to enter into a contentious technology inter- operability agreement with Washington.
The equipment kept off the Indian aircraft includes its advanced communications equipment. The equipment includes the AN/ ARC- 222 SINCGARS combat net radio, the KV- 119 Identify Friend- Foe digital transponder, the TACTERM/ANDVT high frequency secure voice terminal, the VINSON KY- 58 secure voice module and parts of the Rockwell- Collins AN/ ARC-210(V) SATCOM transceiver.
The equipment facilitates secure, encrypted communication - facilities that would be deeply useful in covert or special forces operations. Such operations form the secondary mission profile ascribed to the C-130J in India.
The US has refused to fit these items on the Indian C-130J fleet unless India enters into a bilateral pact that the Indian military leadership is deeply suspicious about. It is called CISMOA - short for communications inter- operability and security memorandum of agreement.
Last month, defence minister A. K. Antony is understood to have told his counterpart in Washington that the agreement would not be signed any time soon - certainly not during US President Barack Obama's visit - because India was far from convinced about the benefits that would accrue to its Indian defence forces.
Strangely, even though the IAF had specifically asked for the high- technology items mentioned above, the C- 130J contract suggests that there is a chance the equipment won't be made available even if India signs the CISMOA. Referring to the stripped items, the contract says: " These items may be added when CISMOA is signed between" the US and India.
Lockheed-Martin officials indicated that the IAF C-130J configuration was frozen before the contract was signed and that there were no last- minute surprises, a point conceded by the IAF. "There could be implications for operational autonomy at play here, which is something a service as large as the Indian Air Force cannot afford," Air Marshal (retd) A. K. Singh, former commander of the IAF's Western Air Command, said. A substantial part of the IAF agrees with that view.
An extreme view is that fitting advanced communications gear on Indian aircraft, and having them governed by an agreement like CISMOA, would allow the US remote power over the equipment through satellite- relayed " kill switches" that could render equipment unusable, not to mention leaving doors open to electronic espionage.
But the IAF put on a brave face.
"The government had asked for our opinion.... It [ not getting the equipment] will not make any substantial difference to our operational capability," Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik said A section of the IAF, however, believes that if India is resolved to deepen its ties with the US, then agreements like CISMOA are simply enablers of more nuanced, meaningful exchanges in operational theatres. For now though, the armed forces are sceptical.