Top government sources say India has assured the Trump administration that it “will never compromise the operational secrecy” of the weapon systems it has bought or will buy from the US. “It was conveyed that India maintains robust technical firewalls, and does not pass sensitive military information of a country to a third party. We respect intellectual property rights and meticulously adhere to contracts inked with other countries,” said a source.
Ahead of the Cabinet Committee on Security on September 26 giving the final nod to the S-400 deal, which incidentally has no provision for offsets in the contract, a series of visits were made to the US to assuage its concerns.
A top-level military technical team led by the then IAF deputy chief Air Marshal R Nambiar (now the Eastern Air Command chief), for instance, visited the US on August 22-23. It was followed by another one by national security advisor Ajit Doval in mid-September.
Sources say India has “effectively conveyed its case” to the US, along with the fact that the S-400 acquisition was a “urgent national security requirement” for it. But they admit that it will finally be President Donald Trump who will take the call on whether to grant waiver to India from the American law called CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), which seeks to deter countries from buying Russian weapons or Iranian oil.
All this comes in the backdrop of the S-400 systems being capable of “mapping or recording” data of other platforms like aircraft or radars. The stealth characteristics, electronic warfare and other capabilities of the American fifth-generation F-35 Lightning-II fighters, for instance, can be recorded and analyzed by the powerful acquisition and engagement radars of the S-400 systems if they are operated together.
This, in turn, would make F-35s even more vulnerable to interception by the long-range missiles of the S-400s, which is widely considered to be the most potent air defence or “area denial” system around the globe at present. Washington fears Moscow would be able to access data recorded by S-400s bought by a third country like Turkey, which is slated to get F-35s but is also in talks with Russia for the air defence systems, during maintenance and overhaul cycles.
India, of course, has so far shown no interest in the F-35s. But it does have several other high-tech weapon systems in the pipeline from the US, especially after inking the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) during the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue on September 6.
Both US defence secretary Jim Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who were here for the two-plus-two dialogue, have strongly pushed India’s case to get a “national security waiver” under CAATSA.
Just last month, the US imposed financial sanctions on the Chinese military for acquiring S-400 systems and Sukhoi-35 fighter jets from Russia under CAATSA.