The US has informed India it was ‘very upset’ with Delhi’s signing of a 2.43-billion deal with Russia for the acquisition of MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-30MKIs .
Washington is peeved at Delhi overlooking American fighter jet F-21s that the US claimed was a lethal combination of stealth F-35 and F-22 jets.
Earlier , US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin had also said that it will not sell its newly rolled out F-21 fighter jet to any other country if India places an order for 114 planes, an offer aimed to counter other US, European or Russian jets.
But the Indian Air Force topbrass feels it can only consider US made F35 and not any other lesser aircraft with an eye on future.
Amid escalating border tensions between India and China, New Delhi approved to spend billions to purchase Russian fighter jets. Moscow will sell New Delhi 33 new fighter aircraft including 12 Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s along with up-gradation of 59 MiG-29s.
The MiG 29 procurement and up-gradation from Russia is estimated to cost Rs 7418 cr, the Su-30 MKI will be procured from HAL at an estimated cost of Rs 10,730 cr.
Rahul Bedi , a senior journalist and defence analyst , wrote that “the piddling issue of the US potentially sanctioning India under CAATSA for acquiring Russian military hardware including fighter jets to meet its urgent needs simply refuses to go away.”
In a statement to the UK’s Jane’s Defence Weekly after India declared its intent to procure Russian fighter jets, a senior US State Department official ominously announced that India was not ‘safeguarded’ from penalties under CAATSA.
Bedi quotes the US defence official as saying -” We urge all of our allies and partners to forego (defence) deals with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under CAATSA.”
He further added that though the US could not “prejudge whether a specific transaction would result in sanctions, it was important to note that CAATSA did not have any blanket or country-specific waiver provision.”
There are stringent guidelines for considering a waiver, and each deal is assessed on a case-by-case basis,” Jane’s quoted the US official as saying.
US Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) has not made any judgment regarding the significance of any deal (with Russia) involving India, he added, but did not elaborate.
Bedi writes that the veiled CAATSA threat by the US, targeted at India for purchasing Russian fighter jets seems to be more a commercial bludgeon than a lawful effort to punish a politically intrusive Russia.
Accordingly, it also leads to the clear picture that the CAATSA stems largely from US’ resentment with the Indian government for not acquiring US fighters like Lockheed Martin’s F-21 and instead opting for Russian Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s.
The US has long been craving to sell the customized F-21s to India which was unveiled at Aero India 2019 in Bangalore.
Bedia writes that little more than a re-branded F-16 that dates back to the mid-1970s, it makes great economic sense from the US perspective to ‘sell’ India to licence-build this fighter for the IAF to meet its requirement for an additional 114 combat aircraft to make up for the depleted fighter squadrons.
With F-16s being phased out of the US Air Force, and their plant at Fort Worth in Texas closing down, moving the ageing fighters’ manufacturing unit to India, would keep the line going for few more years, while also providing employment opportunities in the US under Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ drive.
India going with Russia and French fighter jets has exasperated the US and could well be the motive behind its veiled threat of invoking CAATSA against India.
Indian officials say Delhi wanted immediate induction of about 30 to 40 aircrafts to cover its recent accident losses in view of the border tensions and then approach the larger induction issue on a futuristic perspective.
” That is where the Americans fail or wish away the sensitivities of a key ally like India by pursuing a blatant mercantilist approach . Either buy from me or be dammed and we punish you is their approach which India will never accept or bow down to,” said a retired IAF Air Marshal.