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Senators Urge Senior Officials to Approve a Pair of US-India Defense Deals


In late March, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA) penned letters to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the Trump administration to approve two defense deals being considered by the United States and India. Both lawmakers are co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, and argued that securing the deals would fortify the US-India military relationship. In the letters, the senators requested Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson to “weigh in forcefully with the White House on the strategic significance” of the deals.

In one letter, the senators encouraged the administration to approve the co-production of F-16 Fighters within Indian borders. Since 2007, India has been seeking to replace its Russian-designed MiG-21 fighters, and in October 2016, Delhi issued a Request for Information (REI) to global manufacturers; India is now deliberating between the F-16 and Sweden’s Saab Gripen.

Highlighting this competition, Senators Cornyn and Warner affirmed that striking an F-16 deal with India would be a monumental victory; the deal would boost production and usage of the fighters, helping to sustain the existing fleet of more than 1,000 F-16s in the US Air Force. They also asserted that successful negotiation would safeguard thousands of American jobs and preserve 800 high-value engineering and defense jobs across a supplier base of 42 states. As the F-16 is the only scalable 4th generation fighter, the senators also advocate the deal as an extension of security cooperation with India.

The pair of lawmakers also encouraged the White House to approve the export of the General Atomics’ Guardian to India – a nonlethal maritime adaptation of the MQ-9 Reaper. The Reaper is a remotely piloted aircraft renowned for its capabilities in intelligence gathering and precision strike missions. The sale of the Guardian model to India is potentially worth $2 billion.

India previously requested information on the Guardian in 2016, sending request letters for up to 22 Guardian drones under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. Senators Cornyn and Warner supported the sale, underscoring that the deal would enhance interoperability in South Asia and aid in balancing against rising military powers in the Asia Pacific.

The Senators also contended that India should be given special consideration for exemption from the Unmanned Aerial Systems Export Policy: a 40-nation agreement on the use and export of armed drones based on principles of the Missile Technology Control Regime. They concluded that the Guardian sale would have positive ramifications on Asian regional security and would be essential to protecting American manufacturing jobs as well as fostering closer maritime cooperation and high-quality intelligence sharing with India.

David Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a Master's Candidate of the Asian Studies program at Georgetown University.