America is in danger. It urgently needs an ordnance factory. Modi-Biden summit could seal a landmark deal
President Joe Biden will host a state visit for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week in Washington, DC. It is expected that good progress will be made on several fronts contributing to the continued trend of deepening and widening of US-India relations, and some deals will be signed that both leaders can take home as wins for their domestic audiences.
I will not go into any of above here. Rather, in this memo I zero down to the pain point that is top worry of the US in the fast moving and dangerous world order of today. Then I describe how India can reduce this pain of America.
India needs many things from the US. An understanding and trusting partner, trade and investments, defense weapons and technology transfer, myriad other. But reality is that India is a junior partner in this relationship. Plain speaking, India is dependent upon the “goodwill” and strategic calculus of the US.
The US also needs much from India – to access and sell to the world’s largest market, including defense, to stop oil and weapons from Russia, to contribute more to anti-China axis that the US is building, and access to the world’s largest market.
Given the power-equation between the US and India, the needs of India will not move the needle in the US. It is only when America will face a severe pain point, danger to its own national security, and if India brings any solution to that problem, that the United States will make a grand move with India.
Otherwise, India’s concerns, existential worries will get only sympathetic, empathetic response, and some deals by America, but nowhere close to a situation wherein the United States feels itself threatened and calculates that India could help it and will therefore act with urgency.
So, what is the biggest threat and pain for America, today?
The biggest challenge to America’s military power for next 20 years, is no outside enemy – but its own industrial weaknesses. The US is today facing a severe shortfall in its ability to manufacture military weapons and munitions.
It needs to re-stock many of its own supplies which have depleted to alarming levels due to Ukraine war. It needs to keep supplies to Ukraine going. It needs to refill the inventory of many NATO countries because many of their American munitions have been sent to Ukraine.
It needs to send weapons and munitions to stock up Taiwan. Plus, it needs to increase its own stocks to prepare for a conflict with China in the next 5-7 years.
On the other hand – the defense manufacturing base of the US has shrunk in the last 30 years; production capacities are now limited to only a few very large defense contractors; production of many components has been outsourced globally, including to China; defense procurements by the Pentagon are caught in a maze of delays and bureaucratese; and a shortage of skilled professionals.
Thus it is no secret that the United States is facing a severe crunch and threat in the 21st century of how to increase the production of its existing weapons and munitions, as well as how to produce the next generation of military, naval, and air-based systems of warfare based on critical and emerging technologies.
Meanwhile, a variety of US government, and outside think tanks, keep modeling US-China war scenarios in the next 5-10 years. All such gaming exercises come to one conclusion – that the US and NATO allies will run out of American weapons and munitions in such a war, and though causing immense damage to China, will also suffer unimaginable damage to vast amounts of US military assets and American interests.
It is this pain and need of the US for production of weapons and munitions to engage in the world wars of this decade that is nudging US decision makers to up their defense cooperation with India.
In the background of the above, I would argue that it is in America’s interest to imagine that India can be the ordnance factory to America. India could be the ordnance factory to the US and NATO, in the ongoing third world war which started last year, and into the fourth world war which is on the horizon in the next 5-7 years in the Indo-Pacific theatre.
The British built a robust base of ordnance factories in British India which aided supplies of munitions and bombs, during World War I, and then many more supplies in World War II.
That is why next week, Modi could be well positioned to forcefully advocate that the US must make India the ordnance factory of the US, in the third and fourth world wars, in its own critical national interest.
(Robinder Sachdev is president of Imagindia Institute)