4 minute readIndia, Japan defense agreements to boost US-2i sale

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo: PIB

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo: PIB

India and Japan signed two agreements for defense cooperation on Saturday that are expected to enable the expedition of the acquisition of the ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft by the Indian Navy.

The Joint Statement issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said:

The two Prime Ministers welcomed the conclusion of the Agreement concerning the Transfer of the Defence Equipment and Technology and the Agreement concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information, which further strengthens the foundation of deep strategic ties. Taking note of the Agreements, they reaffirmed their commitment to continue discussions to deepen the bilateral defence relationship including through two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, co-development and co-production. The two Prime Ministers expressed their intention to explore potential future projects on defence equipment and technology cooperation such as US-2 amphibian aircraft. Out of the 16 agreements concluded by the two countries during the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India, one agreed to transfer of defense technology and the another agreed on the mutual protection of classified military information by the two countries.

While the second agreement has a bearing on the conduct of joint military exercises, both are also being perceived as enabling documents for the conclusion of the US-2i acquisition.

It is important to remember that when first proposed, the acquisition of the the US-2i aircraft by India was mooted as a sale of civilian aircraft.

Since then, Japan has amended its Constitution to permit the sale of approved defense technologies to select countries.

It is also important to remember that as part of the proposed sale of ‘civilian aircraft’, the process was being steered on the Indian side by the Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy (DIPP) and the defense ministry, together. 

After the amendment to the Japanese Constitution, the Japanese Vice Minister for Defense, Hideshi Tokuchi, wrote to the Indian defense secretary in May (R.K. Mathur was succeeded by G. Mohan Kumar the same month), indicating that the Government of Japan was now ready to view the proposed Indian purchase of the amphibious aircraft as a military sale.

Much of the delay in processing this agreement has been due to confusion and red tape on the Indian side, since this kind of process – with the DIPP and defense ministry jointly responsible for processing the acquisition – had never been attempted before.

Although Japan is looking at the sale of defense equipment to other countries as well, a first sale to India would constitute a coup of sorts for the strategic relationship between the two countries, both of whom, notably, have tensions over active territorial disputes with the People’s Republic of China.

It is arguable that had the Indian defense ministry been seized of the strategic importance of the acquisition, this visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have been witness to a sign-off.

But the delays notwithstanding, the agreements concluded on Saturday will pave the way for speedier progress on the acquisition.

The agreement on the Transfer of the Defense Equipment and Technology directly informs the process and negotiations for the purchase. Even without explicit references to this proposed acquisition, it is easy to arrive at this conclusion because it is the first and, so far, only case for Indian acquisition of Japanese defense technologies.

What this does is provide a foundation for the both defense ministries to conduct their processes with a hitherto never-before set of sanctions approved by their respective governments.

The second agreement concerns Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information. This is effectively a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Although this has relevance for any bilateral military interaction including – for instance – joint naval exercises, it also removes a lot of the time-consuming leg-work involved in first negotiating and putting in place an NDA for the transfer of defense technologies.

And both, the NDA as as the agreement for transfer for defense equipment and technology have ramifications for discussions on possible future acquisitions, as well. Significantly, India has not concluded such a blanket NDA with any other country. This is because with government-to-government foreign military sales to other countries, each acquisition case has its own NDA built into the contract. Since Japan has never before conducted any foreign military sale to any other government, it simply did not have a mechanism in place for securing the integrity of military information. This agreement is expected to remove that difficulty. 

With India still contemplating the construction of a second line of submarines under the Project-75(I) program, there has been some mention of interest in Japan’s Soryu-class of submarines.

But the Japanese government and industry is waiting to see how this first acquisition process plays out before embarking seriously on any discussion for other technologies.

With these two agreements in place, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is conceivable that the case for the US-2i could traverse the defense ministry’s various committees and arrive for consideration at the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting next month.

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