BHARAT KARNAD | 17 JUNE, 2018
US Arm Twists India to Buy Patriot-3 Systems And Not Russians S-400
Cover Photograph PAC-3 Fired
Late last year, the Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a Burqan-2 missile (a Scud variant) aimed at the international airport in Riyadh some 600 miles to the northeast. The missile got to its target alright but due to the strains in the metal canister induced by the flight, blew apart with the debris littering parts of the runway and the road outside the airport.
The Saudis, however, claimed that they had fired five Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) interceptor at the intruder and had destroyed the Houthi Burqan.
US President Donald Trump visiting Saudi Arabia not long after that event crowed, “Our system knocked the missile out of the air. That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.”
Trump is a loud, less than, credible snake oil salesman at the best of times. As promoter of the PAC-3 he is eminently ignorable, as is any US official urging friendly countries to buy this air defence system whose worldwide publicity is far better than its performance.
Except, and this is a kicker, an analysis by air defence experts of the debris distribution and of the parts of the Burqan system that the Saudis proudly displayed days after the attack, came to the conclusion, as reported in the American press, that the incoming missile had come apart by itself at the end of its trajectory and, more shocking still to Trump Admin officials, the Pentagon, and Raytheon — the maker of the Patriot, that all the five PAC-3 interceptors the Saudis fired had missed the target!
Last month Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, came to Delhi on a triple-pronged mission — to press Delhi to sign the remaining two “foundational” agreements — COMCASA and BECA as follow up to the LSA; and to prevent India signing up to buy the Russian counterpart of the PAC-3, the S-400, for $5 billion; and to persuade the Modi government to buy instead the American product, PAC-3, that doesn’t work.
While Kaidanow’s visit wasn’t reported by the Indian media, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that India would go in for the Russian item even if it attracted US sanctions under the 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was.
Apparently, the US State Dept official’s muffled threat of CAATSA did not work, nor did it “engender a willingness” on the part of the Indian government to think about the US PAC-3 system as replacement. And as regards COMCASA and BECA she was told nothing she could be reassured by.
“As a function of trying to move the defense relationship forward — and certainly the defense trade relationship — it is important that those foundational agreements are considered by the Indian government, they are acted on hopefully as expeditiously as possible,” Kaidanow told the Washington defence media. “Of course it is their sovereign right to decide on these things, but our hope is that we have presented to them some good options and some ways forward. Hopefully we can make some progress in that relatively soon.”
And pertaining to the F-16 and perhaps also the PAC-3, she said “American defense product is great product — it is the best in the world. It’s central that countries really think about when they acquire these things — and particularly when we’re talking about important systems … — that they think about the quality and the interoperability piece and all of the things that we know come with the acquisition of American products.”
Kaidanow is right. Buying military goods from the US comes with lot of attached baggage and just too many do’s and don’t’s, inclusive of the uncertainty attending on the spares supply, which can be stopped at any time on Congressional whim and an Administration’s fancy. And worst of all, the PAC-3 does not work as advertised.
Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is convinced about the cons outweighing the pros or not, the political scene at home tilting against him suggests his government is unlikely during the remainder of its first term at least to sign any accords, or buy anything big from America, let alone nix the S-400 deal, go in for the PAC-3, and permanently turn Russia into an enemy.
(Bharat Karnad is a reputed strategic expert and writes a regular blog. He is with the Centre for Policy Research)