India Will Buy 15 Amphibious Aircraft From Japan: So What?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

India Will Buy 15 Amphibious Aircraft From Japan: So What?


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India as chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations yielded some important advances in India-Japan relations. Notably on the security front, the two resolved to consult on national security matters between their two national security apparatuses (Japan’s national security council having been formed recently). Additionally, the two will conduct a bilateral naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean in a move that is sure to draw China’s attention. The pending sale of the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious patrol aircraft–a topic of interest for India since 2011–also inched forward. Abe and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that India and Japan would follow up on the sale in March with a joint working group meeting. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony is set to visit Japan at some point this year (presumably before May, due to the general elections in India) to finalize the deal.

The deal is significant for a variety of reasons. On the surface, it’s another indicator of burgeoning cooperation between India and Japan on security matters. The deal is doubly significant in the context of India’s relations with Japan because once India clinches the deal, it will become the first country to purchase defense equipment from Japan since the latter’s self-imposed ban on defense exports began in 1967. The deal is important for Abe as it would open up Japan’s defense industry for additional contracts with foreign partners and stimulate Japan’s defense industry. It should be noted that negotiations on the US-2 deal began in 2011 under the Democratic Party of Japan, first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then under Yoshihiko Noda.

According to Reuters, the US-2 deal could result in a $1.65 billion tab for India, which is looking at purchasing 15 of the amphibious patrol aircraft. The deal is essentially a fait accompli (cleared politically at the highest levels in both countries) and the joint working group will iron out certain details including important modifications that would allow Japan to export the aircraft to India without violating its self-imposed defense export restrictions. A Reuters report notes that the modifications will include the removal of a friend or foe identification system. Another point of discussion for the two sides is whether India will be permitted to assemble the aircraft indigenously, giving it access to Japanese military technology.

Strategically, the US-2 is important for India beyond its relationship with Japan. The US-2 has a more than modest range of 4,500 km and India’s 15 aircraft will be stationed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the Bay of Bengal. The US-2 is a versatile aircraft for search and rescue operations as well, partly owing to its short take-off ability. According to an anonymous Indian military source interviewed by Reuters, the US-2 will allow India to support military and civilian ships deep in Southeast Asian waters. The military source notes: ”You are sailing further and further away, and ships break down at sea. You can either wait for reinforcements to arrive by sea or bring in an amphibian right next to the stricken ship.” Procurement of the US-2 additionally directly counters Indian fears of China’s burgeoning “string of pearls” strategy in Southeast Asia.

Overall, expect a India-Japan US-2 deal in the near future–possibly before India’s general elections. The US-2 deal will serve as a gateway for India and Japan to explore additional cooperation on defense technology. The joint statement coming out of Abe’s visit to New Delhi last weekend noted that India and Japan are seeking to cooperate on advanced technologies more generally. Prospects for increased defense cooperation remain positive as long as Shinzo Abe remains at the helm in Tokyo; revising Japan’s guidelines on defense technology exports is a strategic priority for Abe and man happens to be quite the Indophile.

A looming consequence of the US-2 deal will be increased Chinese skepticism that the strategic convergence between India and Japan is anything other than a bulwark against China’s ambitions along the Asia-Pacific rimland. Additionally, the deal would in essence move Japan more in the direction of military normalization; allowing Japan to export its defense know-how and technology freely across Asia could prove deleterious to China’s interests.

For the moment, Indian and Japanese diplomats and leaders remain careful to omit any mention of China during their bilateral meetings. So far, all bilateral military exercises between India and Japan have occurred under the premise of promoting freedom of navigation in Asia’s crowded sea lanes and combating piracy. A day may come when New Delhi begins to back Tokyo in its disputes with Beijing and Tokyo returns the favor, but a variety of political factors still inhibit that sort of openness in this important bilateral relationship between Asia’s largest and richest democracy. A US-2 deal won’t supercharge the positive momentum in the India-Japan relationship, but it won’t hurt either.

February 2, 2014 at 13:37

This order says a lot about both countries:

India buys a 50 year old aircraft design, and so modernises its aviation industry.

Japan sells obsolete aircraft and becomes a military exporter again for the first time since the 1960′s.

February 26, 2014 at 11:11

LOL – well said. Copies of Catalinas from museums would be just as capable for India. What India needs are Wing-In-Ground ships/aircraft.

A apridefuljapaneseamerican
February 1, 2014 at 14:58

wymanwglee: Just letting you know that really isnt funny. If you think about the number the United States was winning the war in Vietnam by 53,000 US soldier KIA over 2million Vietnamese soldiers collateral damaged included were KIA the reason US lost is because we lost the war at home. The war lost support we lost two great leaders Martin Luther King and JFK. Anti war activist in the USA gained ground and the war was lost and its support. Last mission was the Christmas bombing campaign that didnt last long. It pushed the NVA back a few hundred miles but the results ended with the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam. China if it wasnt Soviet influenced if it was in same shoes as USA would’ve probably done the same thing. But us Asians are patient Americans have a limitation to patience.

John C
February 2, 2014 at 13:40

Vietnamese soldiers killed were not collateral damage. Civilians killed were collateral damage – except of course for those deliberately massacred by Americans.

The Vietnam war was a fight between the North and South. The Americans were allies of the South Vietnamese, not the other way around.

February 1, 2014 at 14:40

India should stay out of trouble. Let China Japan and US fight with each other to settle scores. India should keep building the military capacity and produce weapons in Indian factories.

January 31, 2014 at 12:35

Good news, it is said that Germany has become a peace-loving country. But why it is Japan not Germany who doesn’t sell advanced weapons until now. I was born in China now lived in US, I support Japan become a normal country against Nazi-China.

February 1, 2014 at 14:49

Wanger: The reason we dont sell hi tech to other countries is because we are responsible for them as a pacifist nation. These technology considered so high tech can be used for war. Thus we take great care only to decide who can and who cant have them when we give out something to another country we havent seen in 15 years we offer it as a gift lets just say the US-2 is gold from Japan and can benefit both militarily and humanitarian relief for the country receiving it. And as a pacifistic nation we cannot build super hi tech weapons for war its against our constitution signed on the USS Missouri after WWII. As a nation we honor these agreements.

Little Helmsman
January 31, 2014 at 06:14

It’s funny how thin skinned and defensive Chinese commentators and their apologists are. Every chance they get they have to disparage India!! :) No wonder not too many around the world look up or find inspiration in China as a noble and respected country.

January 30, 2014 at 12:51

Panda forgot to mention that US-2 is primarily designed for disaster reliefs. Fly distance is good, true, but what it makes this aircraft amazing is that it only takes 280m for take-offs, and it is the only amphibious aircraft that can “land” onto 3m high waves. India needed for preparations for cyclones and tsunami. Great Japanese technology and great bargain for the future India. That’s what.

January 30, 2014 at 01:07

I wonder how many aircraft will be delivered before the Indian government uncovers a “bribery scandal” and shuts the whole deal down.

January 30, 2014 at 01:44

A “bribery scandal” can only take place where there has been a competitive bidding process that could be “manipulated” – this is a government to government deal.

Unlike China, where “bribery scandals” involve executing the journalists who uncovered it, in India the government is forced to take action instead of allowing workers to beat up their bosses and lock them in their offices.

January 30, 2014 at 11:43

Sir, It is well known fact around the World the Chinese and corruptions are two poles apart. Ask those from South East Asia on how averse the Chinese are to corruption.

January 30, 2014 at 00:11

Good news…but need to learn fine manufacturing ability of Japanese and absorb high technology of Japan. Better to add anti ship missile and use as special mission aircraft. IFF system if get from Israelis we don’t mind.

admiral cheng
January 29, 2014 at 18:25

To put it simple, China can still take on these two rogues with its one hand tied behind. LOL

General ding-dong
January 30, 2014 at 01:41

China got its rear kicked by Vietnam and its dreaming about taking on Japan and India ?? LOL Looks like the Chinese have eaten too many “dim” sums of late.

Provocateur Extraordinaire
January 30, 2014 at 03:26

I guess the hand tied behind is to stop the bleeding. :-)

January 30, 2014 at 03:35

admiral cheng, when has your navy seen naval action ? Still overestimation by the biggest “rogue” of its ability and underestimation of “the two rogues” as you put it is good.

January 30, 2014 at 07:24

Looks like the U. S. is a super power that can withstand anythings but had to ran from Vietnam with its tail between its legs. LOL.

January 30, 2014 at 11:38

Admiral Cheng, you are an embarrassment to the Chinese people, please stop making a fool of yourself.

January 30, 2014 at 23:18

why don’t you put some more spoons on the ground and make a new name for yourself

January 31, 2014 at 15:40

Japan have the technology and india have the number and both are democratic countries. It’s going to ww2 all over again but this time japan and india will be the allies and china will be the villain. Clearly after they threaten south east asian countries the allies will be backed by super powers and the rest of the UNO members.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief