In recent decades defence cooperation has not been a shining example of Indo-German relations and strategic partnerships. And the just concluded visit (4th to 6th October, 2015) of the German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel conveyed the same impressions. This was evident from the fact that the German Chancellor was not accompanied by her Defence Minister Ms Von der Leyen, though her delegation comprised four other powerful cabinet ministers. Though this did not prevent the two sides to specially hold the Defence Consultation under the rubric of the Inter Governmental Consultations (IGC), which is the one German sides hold with some of her important partners.
The Inter Governmental Consultations comprised of many other subjects like economy and trade, climate change, science and technology cooperation, energy cooperation, skills development etc, and the consultations were held under the chair of the cabinet ministers. The defence consultation was held at the level of Ministers of State on both sides during which they discussed the bilateral cooperation in joint research and development and the ‘Make in India’ programme.
Though the two sides have not revealed details of the defence consultation, the Foreign Secretary S Jayshankar told this writer that the discussions essentially covered the business opportunities that would arise out of our defence FDI policy. “There were a number of areas where the Germans actually expressed interest. I think there was a broad interest in various materials technology which came up. Licensing issues were discussed, cyber issues were discussed. There was appreciation of the liberalisation of FDI, of our navy to navy cooperation. There are a number of tenders which are global tenders. In some of them obviously Germany had an interest but that would move forward depending on what is the tender outcome. There were a number of tenders.“
German interest in submarines
The Foreign Secretary did not specifically reveal the type of equipment the German side was interested in India’s proposed global tenders. But sources said that the Germans are keenly interested in Indian Navy’s six submarine programmes, under the Project 75I, which are to be acquired through ‘Make In India’ route. Indian Ministry of Defence recently sought responses from the Indian Public and Private Sector Shipyards. The foreign manufacturers have tied up with Indian shipyards and will be responding to the Request for Information, likely to be issued very soon.
According to reports the German company, Thyssenkrupp AG is in discussion with the Anil Ambani-led Reliance group to partner in building up possible 12 submarines, the full contract may run into the range of over Rs One lakh crores. The MoD will be issuing tenders for six submarines initially which will range in the range of over Rs 50,000 crores. The Reliance group has set up the Reliance Defence Systems which is a subsidiary of Reliance Infrastructure, which holds 18 per cent stake in Pipavav Defence and Offshore engineering Ltd. The Germans have great expectations from this proposed submarine tenders and hence they are aligning with the Indian private sector conglomerates.
Defence relationship did not form the bedrock of German Chancellor’s talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, probably because over the years, the German side had lost the race to grab the Indian defence market to the French, the Americans, the Israelis and the Russians. The Germans now want to re- join the race and is taking keen interest in Indian Navy’s submarine construction programme. The Germans had in fact emerged as great defence partner in the late eighties, when both countries entered into contract for supply of four submarines under which two were acquired off the self and two were made in India.
Cooperation in Arjun tanks
This possibility of deepening this cooperation was nipped in the bud during the eighties when the two countries had begun serious partnerships in submarine manufacturing and Arjun tanks development programme. For the Arjun Main Battle Tank, the Germans provided the MTU engines which is still the mainstay of the Arjun tanks. But the cooperation in the naval submarines went astray as India discovered the allegations of kickbacks in the submarine deal in the late eighties and the then VP Singh led Indian government cancelled the deal halfway. The Germans had already supplied two Type-209 submarines and two were manufactured in India but the programme for making the additional two in India were canceled as the Indian government decided in haste. If the German India cooperation in naval equipment sector had continued India by now would have manufactured a dozen submarines on its own and mastered the submarine making technology.
The Germans were teaching India how to make submarines but a strategic folly committed by the domestic politics-led decision, killed the Indian submarine programme. In fact the Mumbai Mazagaon Dockyard Ltd had developed the required infrastructure for manufacturing submarine, which all went waste because of cancellation of deals. Now that the Indian judiciary has cleared the Germans of any wrongdoing they are once again in the race. They are offering their Advanced Type-214 Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) equipped submarines, which Indian navy is lacking till now.
The Germans are considered to be a serious partner in the defence sector and the Indian side sees merits in developing strong bonds with the German defence industry which has developed high technology equipment. The Germans were strong contenders for the MMRCA contest of the Indian Air Force, but its four nation partnered European fighter Typhoon narrowly lost the race. Since the MMRCA has been prematurely canceled, and only 36 of its 126 aircraft are to be acquired from the French Dassault, the Germans have still kept their interests alive.