Wednesday, February 09, 2011

India's Biggest Defense Decision This Decade

Given that the Himalaya Mountains limit ground operations between India and China to less-than-decisive campaigns over borderlands and that India already can cut China's sea lines of communication through the Indian Ocean, I believe air power is India's most pressing military need:

India's most urgent need, in my opinion, is upgrading their air force so that they can gain air superiority over the land frontier. Do that and the Chinese will have problems moving their forces even on their own side of the border, let alone moving into India; and will have to face being bombed rather than dishing it out to Indian troops.

So this decision by India about buying 126 fighters to replace aging Mig-21s in their arsenal will be critical to India's success or failure against China, and not just to the competing manufacturers:

A range of aircraft types are being offered. Boeing wants to sell its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, while arch-rival Lockheed Martin wants India to buy its F-16IN Super Viper. Sweden's Saab has put the Gripen in play, and Dassault is seeking its first foreign order for the Rafale. Eurofighter, meanwhile, is pitching the Typhoon, and to round off the bidding, Russia has offered the RSK MiG-35.

The stakes are high. Whichever firm wins the contract and the potential follow-up orders will undoubtedly flourish over the coming decade.

Yeah, getting a foot in the door with this order could pave the way for future orders.

I'm biased. I think either American plane is the way to go. Especially since India is already working with Russia on a fifth generation plane, of the F-22- or F-35-class of plane (or would it just end up being a generation 4.5 plane?). India needs allies as much as planes to face China. Russia has a long border with China and obviously would be a good strategic ally--as the Soviet Union was for India during the Cold War. Having America standing behind them would be handy as well, just in case. Not that the combat-proven American planes can't stand on their own merits, but the other planes are as good or better, too, on technical specifications.

But if it comes to Hindi-Chini Bang Bang, who is more likely to cave in to Chinese pressure to cut off technical support and weapons and spare parts supply: Sweden, France, the EU, or America? If you wonder, consider who still sells to Taiwan over Chinese objections. And who would be more likely to send their own fighter squadrons to India's aid if it came to war? I'm not saying that India would either want our help or that it would necessarily be in our interests to do so, depending on the circumstances; but just in the theoretical level, the question is easy to answer as well.

This is far more than a fighter plane decision, as important as that is on its own. It is a decision about the shape of India's total defense environment for a generation.