India beefs up its strategic aircraft capability

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After much hullabaloo over last month’s pictures of China’s Y-20 strategic transport aircraft, Boeing announced the delivery of India’s first C-17A Globemaster III aircraft for flight testing at Edwards AFB in Palmdale, California.

The January 23rd press release indicates Boeing is on track to deliver an additional four C-17A before year’s end. The remaining five will have a 2014 delivery date, completing the $5.8 billion contract signed in June 2011.

The contract—which follows the arrival of the sixth and last C-130J Hercules from Lockheed Martin in December 2011–will see India become the second largest operator of the C-17 heavy lift aircraft only after the United States.

As such, many defense analysts continue to point to these contracts, inter alia, as key drivers for deepened US-Indo relations despite inherently complicated US export controls, and what are often viewed by Indian defense observers as diluted offset agreements for technology transfer.

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China to overtake India as largest gold importer

Although suggested earlier this year, China is projected to overtake India as the largest gold importer by almost 50 tonnes, according to a statement from the World Gold Council (GGC). An Economic Times report from early February said India had a seven per cent fall to 933.4 tonnes in 2011, while demand from China increased by 20 per cent to 769.8 tonnes in the same period.  A report this month shows demand in gold picking up in India due to festivities (Diwali/Dhanteras) and late weddings while China sees rising demand due to stronger economic activity in Q4.

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India to train Afghan troops

According to press reporting, the Indian Army will train 600 Afghan Army officer as well as 200 Afghan cadets every year. This training (announced on 08NOV12) grew out of the strategic partnership agreement signed on 04OCT11 between the two countries, taking just over a year to work out.

In addition, NDTV reports “a company level (100-strong) contingents of ANA will be trained for four weeks at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) located at Vairangte in Mizoram.” (Prior reporting had also suggested stints at the High Altitude Warfare School in Sonmarg, Kashmir)

The agreement was reported by the Indian press as a way to help build further avenues for India’s mining companies. (Back in 2011, Steel Authority of India Ltd led a consortium of top Indian firms in obtaining the rights for $1-trillion Hajigak iron ore mine in Afghanistan).

PLA Lieutenant-General Ren Haiquin Speech at Aussie Army Conference

James Brown on the Lowy Institute’s blog posted visiting PLA Lieutenant-General Ren Haiquin’s speech to the Australian Chief of Army’s annual conference at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. Lieutenant General Ren warned against Cold War notions of Containment having this to say:

Due to historical as well as realistic reasons, current security situation in Asia is not very satisfying and there are still factors destabilizing and uncertain…Asia is now in a transition towards a new type of security order, and external countries involvement complicate the process. Some countries pursue strategies such as “rebalance the Asia-Pacific” and “Looking East” and are increasing their strategic investment.

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Pakistan to discuss plan to import LNG from Qatar via India

The Economic Times on 07NOV12 reports a proposed plan to import LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) from Qatar to Pakistan via India that will be discussed during President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Doha. Accordingly, a senior unnamed official of the Ministry of Petroleum said that besides importing LNG from Qatar through a terminal in India, there was a proposal to import LNG directly from India through a 60-km pipeline to be laid to the Wagah land border.

The Prime Minister’s Advisor on Petroleum Asim Hussain said that the price of LNG was yet to be decided by the two countries but expressed hope the supply would start within 18 months.

In February 2012, Pakistan and Qatar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for importing 3.5 million tons of LNG during a visit to Doha by former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Iran’s IRGCN opens new base in Gulf while India increases oil imports

General Ali Fadavi

The Associated Press on 04NOV12 reports Iran’s new IRGCN naval base near Iran’s southern port of Bandar-e Lengeh. (On the same day, Iran announced a new VTOL drone that will reportedly be shown sometime next year). The Guards’ navy chief Gen. Ali Fadavi was reported as saying that “missile and marine units have been deployed” at the new base, which will be able to reach the traffic in the strait.

This development comes as India has increased oil imports from Iran in September by 53%, according to Iran’s PressTV. Accordingly, India’s Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited resumed purchasing normal volumes from Tehran following a two-month gap in transactions due to shipping issues bringing levels to 294,400 barrels per day. (The shipping issues are probably now resolved as the Indian government requested state-run insurance companies provide coverage at a premium in August).

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HSBC forecasts 6.9% growth on reform push

On 08NOV12, HSBC India and Asean chief economist Leif Eskesen told reporters in Mumbai that he believed India’s growth to reach 6.9% in the next fiscal year due to the latest reforms. Eskesen went on to say that he saw reforms and additional infrastructure projects as a way to improve the investment climate. He also added that the stabilisation in global factors will also help growth.