By Steve Hynd
Yesterday brought news that India has selected France's Dassault as the preferred bidder for a hundred or more advanced fighter aircraft, the Rafale, in a deal worth up to $30 billion over ten years. Russia, the US and the Eurofighter consortium had also bid on the deal and the deal was so coveted that President Obama personally pushed the US bids on his last visit to India. The U.S. amabassador to India resigned the day after the U.S. bid was rejected.
But while the public talk from India is of a better airframe, more able to withstand the Indian climate, I strongly suspect that the real reason the Rafale won the bidding war is that French President Nicholas Sarkozy had last year promised an unprecedented technology transfer, including machine tools and military secrets, if the French plane won - a promise he has now said France will keep to. Only the Russian bid offered anything similiar, and india is well aware Russian tech does not meet Euro heights.
So, in ten years time India will have the plants and the know-how to make advanced military aircraft - and the technology will have rapidly filtered into other areas of Indian manufacturing, giving India a massive leg up in its bid for superpowerdom. The deal was too sweet not to take, and the U.S. government was foolish and prideful not to offer something similiar. Indeed, U.S. policy towards India has been extrordinarily myopic for years, perhaps because the major military and foreign policy apparatchiks have been befuddled by General Kayani of Pakistan's Jedi mind tricks and false promises of more complete Pakistani co-operation. Pakistan's primary economic and military ally is and will remain China, not America, and it's about time U.S. administrations recognised this.
India, the natural counter-balance to China, is feeling ignored and unloved by the U.S. after the false spring of Bush's nuclear giveaway and the bipartisan rush to sell India lots of expensive but obsolescent weaponry. And it's trying to create a new strategy that accepts the reality of America and the West's continuing bamboozlement by Pakistan - including through outreach to nations like Iran. India is well aware that war between the regional superpowers is not at all unlikely in the future but like China would prefer economic battles. Technology transfers like the Rafale deal give India a leg up either way, and if America wants a powerful democratic ally in the region it should be offering such transfers at every opportunity rather than leaving it to Europe to become India's preferred future trading partner.