The details are still being worked out, but it looks like India is about to become the first country since World War II to buy military aircraft from Japan. This is big news not just for Japan, which is experiencing a revival under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but also for India as it tries to keep pace with a rapidly developing Chinese military.
India intends to buy 15 ShinMaywa Industries amphibious aircraft at a cost of about $110 million each, Reuters reports. “The plane has a range of over 4,500 km (2,800 miles), which will give it reach far into Southeast Asia from the base where the aircraft are likely to be located, in the Andaman and Nicobar island chain that is near the western tip of Indonesia.” India established itself as the world’s biggest arms importer last year.
Building deeper military ties between India and Japan suits both countries. For Japan it helps the economy emerge from years of sluggish growth, and for Abe this deal is a landmark in his quest to revive Japan’s sense of regional strength. India and Japan are the two largest and most powerful of China’s rivals, and cooperating to balance the tiger in the room is a no-brainer.
But it’s not all good news emerging from India’s defense ministry. First there was the news that a new fighter jet co-developed with Russia had hit a snag. The Russian prototype is “unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered,” said an Air Force deputy marshall, according to Fox News.
Then the U.S. Defense Department released a report declaring that the Boeing P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft, several of which India has just purchased in order to better monitor the Indian Ocean for unwelcome intruders, “is not effective for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search.”
It was probably some of this news, along with the memory of a tragic explosion aboard a Russia-made submarine that killed all 18 sailors on board in Mumbai last August, that prompted Narendra Modi to urge India’s defense industry to step up its production of arms and equipment. If Modi is the champion in this year’s election, expect a boost for India’s defense industry and with it a more prominent role for India’s military in the region.