Sleek, cold and lethal. India’s deadly new bird of prey, the US built Apache Longbow has been formally inducted into India’s military, with the Indian Air Force set to operate 22 of them. It symbolises the solidification of the emerging American-Indian strategic partnership.
The convergence of the world’s most powerful democracies is significant for the geopolitics of the world. It suggests a greater co-operation on security interests from counter-terrorism to China. The generation of greater Indian-US co-operation on the high tech defence industry also means that there is a lot of business to be done in the highly lucrative aerospace sector. Above all, there are implications for the approach that India takes in combating cross border terrorism.
It is likely that in the near future New Delhi under the assertive BJP led government of Narendra Modi will choose to pursue a more robust path to countering terrorism. For decades it had been believed by many in Indian diplomatic circles that any form of retaliation to terrorist outrages would be escalatory. The recent actions of the Modi government have actually disproved that. First was the surgical strikes of September 2016, where Indian Special Forces led a daring centrally co-ordinated raid across a broad front into Pakistan. Even more significant was the Indian air strike in Pakistan, well across the international border (and not the Line of Control along Kashmir) in February 2019. There was no escalation to war, let alone nuclear conflagration. That bluff has been called.
These seminal events demonstrated India’s will and capability to penetrate modern air defences to defend itself against major terrorist outrages. The Apache has special meaning in this context; it is a formidable war machine; a flying tank that can cause devastating damage to armour and terrorist alike. There is a frightening new threat on the horizon for anyone wishing to try and use terrorism as a tool against India. It is probable that the world will at some point see videos from Indian Apache gun cameras demonstrating their lethality to terrorists and their launch pads. The raw capability of the Apache itself is remarkable. It has an impressive combat record, having destroyed hundreds of armoured vehicles. Equipped with the sophisticated US Longbow radar, many Apaches can cue in dozens of other attack helicopters, control armed drones and even artillery to assault a target, increasing the potential lethality of an Indian response to a cross border provocation.
The purchase and deployment of the Apache by India from the United States sends an unambiguous message not only to Pakistan but to China too. In fact Beijing’s forces could well feel the fury of Indian Apaches on the eastern orders as Delhi begins to take a more assertive stance toward China, should relations between the Asian giants ever slide into that level of confrontation. It also demonstrates increased American solidarity with India in the face of an increasingly aggressive Sino-Pakistani axis; an alliance of the expansionist illiberal anti-democratic regimes. Arms contracts like the Apache deal are often geopolitical rather than purely commercial.
While the Indian-US partnership is still growing, there is little doubt that trust between the two powers has grown exponentially in the past few years. This is a positive thing for democracy and stability in Asia and the world. The Indian Air Force’s meanest new war machine shows that.