A question hovers over the United States' blooming friendship with India: How good a friend will India be should it emerge as a great power?Some very interesting exchange opportunities perhaps for the next generation of military professionals.
Will it be a Britain — a loyal ally, a partner against terrorism, a fellow evangelist for free markets and democracy? Or will it be France — sharing Washington's bedrock values but ever willing to pursue its own interests at the expense of American ones?
Or will it be China — a competitive threat to the U.S. economy, using its influence to thwart American diplomatic pressure on nations like Sudan and Iran?
This week, government officials and military-hardware makers from the United States will be looking for clues to India's strategic intentions as they attempt to break new ground. At an air show outside the technology hub of Bangalore, they are seeking to sell American-made warplanes to India, which has never before bought them.
The world's two largest democracies were on frosty terms during the Cold War, and India relied for most of its military firepower on Soviet imports. But with times changing, particularly after the 9/11 attacks highlighted common security interests, the leaders of the two nations declared in July 2005 that they were warming their ties into a strategic partnership. At the heart of the new bond is a civilian nuclear deal, recently enacted as law in Washington, that lifts constraints on India's purchases of nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors and frees American companies to sell sensitive technologies to India.
The Pentagon has authorized the largest-ever deployment of display aircraft to the subcontinent. India is expected to open a tender this year for 126 new fighter jets to modernize its fleet, and the Americans are hoping that their new friendship with Delhi will give the F/A-18F Super Hornet, built by Boeing, and the F-16, built by Lockheed Martin, an edge over the Russian MIG warplanes that have long dominated the Indian Air Force fleet.Good news.
To counter Russia's historical advantage, Boeing has offered to produce the F/A-18F jointly with an Indian company. Lockheed scored public-relations points by recruiting Ratan Tata, a billionaire Indian industrialist and amateur pilot, to fly in an F-16 at the air show.
The Americans are also peddling Chinook choppers, C-130 Hercules transport planes and the P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft, and the American companies sending representatives to Bangalore this week include Boeing, Lockheed, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. They will join hundreds of companies from 28 countries, according to the Indo-Asian news service.
American defense companies regard India as a $30 billion opportunity over five years, one leader of the American delegation, William Cohen, a former U.S. defense secretary, told reporters in New Delhi on Monday.