Friday, 31 January 2014

New Delhi, Tokyo Form Closer Ties

The visit of Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera to India on 6 January 2014 signals greater bilateral defence cooperation between the two nations. As New Delhi is taking significant steps to expand its footprint in the region, its long-term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2022 (MCPP-2022) stresses the requirement for improved sustainability at sea, in particular sea-lift, surveillance, expeditionary power projection, and stand-off strike, to support the fleet’s emerging ‘blue-water’ requirement. Based on this requirement, the naval staff embarks on an aggressive building programme to include the purchase of the ShinMaywa Industries, Ltd. US-2 large STOL amphibious aircraft. It is the world’s only amphibious aircraft capable of open-sea landing and take-off in rough sea conditions, up to Sea State 5, according to the manufacturer. The newer variant, US-2, is primarily designed for air-sea rescue missions, replacing the earlier ShinMaywa US-1 airplane.
For ShinMaywa, the Indian market received top priority in recent years. The company is already a supplier of equipment to Indian customers. Having responded to the Indian Navy’s Request for Information (RfI) for the amphibious aircraft, ShinMaywa now offers a stripped-down civilian version of the airplane, optimised for the Indian Navy’s mission assignment. The “central role” of the airplane would be long-range search and rescue and EEZ surveillance. But it can also be equipped to support naval ships during their long-range missions across the Indian Ocean, countering rival Chinese interests in the region. Also, the aircraft can conduct anti-piracy missions, remote island support, and constabulary operations like fishery protection, prevention of toxic dumping at sea, illegal human trafficking, and smuggling of weapons and drugs. The unique capabilities of the US-2 can also be utilised by the Indian Army and Indian Air Force when operating in high-altitude areas, for example for river/lake and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief) operations and for medical evacuation of personnel and supplies from remote areas, according to ShinMaywa.
The possible US-2 deal could be a consequence of the meeting between Indian and Japanese officials in Tokyo in May 2013, during which the two sides decided to establish a Joint Working Group to explore cooperation. This may include assembling under licence by an Indian state manufacturer.
As to very recent announcements by officials in Tokyo, Japan has long regarded India as a powerful counterweight to Beijing’s strategic rise. According to them, a deal with ShinMaywa “could lay the foundation for a broader Japanese thrust into India.” India ranks among the biggest arms markets in the world. It was previously dominated by Russia, but now New Delhi is increasingly buying military hardware from Israel and the United States. According to Kanji Ishimaru, Managing Director of ShinMaywa Industries India Pvt Ltd., the company’s long-term aim is not just establish a typical ‘buyer-seller’ relationship with India by selling state-of-the-art products. Instead, the US-2, as a tried-and-tested amphibious aircraft, is seen as a cornerstone for the intensification of R&D and manufacturing work shared between the two nations.
New Delhi said it would be likely to buy at least 15 aircraft, costing a total of US$1.65Bn. This deal also comes with the adoption of closer ties between New Delhi and Tokyo, with both nations wanting to lay the foundation of a large “supra-regional” economic trade zone also including the United States and other Asian economic powers, eventually countering Chinese plans to build own new “strategic partnerships” and access to new strategic resources in Asia and on the African continent.

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