New Delhi, Aug. 21: A top US Air Force general has said Washington is preparing to station military aircraft in India as part of its “Asia pivot” policy, and the city it is looking at to base its assets in is Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram.
An Indian defence ministry source said: “We have never discussed any such proposal.”
Defence minister A.K. Antony is from Kerala, where the Opposition Left is mobilising protests against the state government.
The disclosure by the American general, who was part of the policy group on Indo-US military relations, has the potential to stir up trouble for the Manmohan Singh government in the run-up to elections. In Kerala, the Left is particularly strong.
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, informed of the US general’s statement, said: “That seems to be the expectation of the Pentagon. It would stem from the Indo-US military framework agreement signed in 2006. It is up to the UPA government to clarify if such base facilities will be allowed.”
The chief of the Pacific air forces under the US military’s Pacific Command, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, has visited Thiruvananthapuram. As a lieutenant general before he took over his current command, he had led the US delegation at an executive steering group meeting of the Indian and US air forces.
“So, as I envision it, as I talk about expanded engagement, a lot of our rebalance is a rotational presence through the Pacific. And obviously we’ll maintain our capability in Northeast Asia. In a lot of ways we’ll increasingly move south and west with the rotational presence. Darwin, Tindal, (Pilbara), Changi East in Singapore, Korat in Thailand, Trivandrum in India.… The most capable platforms will be rotated into the Asia-Pacific,” the general was quoted by Foreign Policy and other magazines as telling journalists at a breakfast meeting.
Carlisle said the US was not setting up new bases in the Asia-Pacific but would continuously “rotate” its military assets in a revival of a “Checkered Flag” policy from the years of the Cold War.
He said that during the Cold War, the US rotated all its military units from the Continental US (Conus) to Europe. That would now be done for the Asia-Pacific.
Indian Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, who visited the US last month, met Carlisle.
Talking of that meeting, the US general said the Indian Air Force was trying to learn to set up a military space command. Carlisle said he had apologised for cancelling a Red Flag exercise, to which the Indian Air Force had been invited, because of budget cuts.
“The relationship’s great with the Indian Air Force. I think Air Chief Marshal Browne and I are good friends. We’ve known each other for a while,” Carlisle said.
“We talked about a variety of things. One of them was, again, an apology on our part for cancelling Red Flag. We did make a commitment to have Red Flag next year about this time and they are going to participate, so that was a positive in that respect.”
He added: “We talked about other engagement opportunities. Their C-17 (strategic air-lifter) — he was here picking up a C-17 out of Long Beach, their second one. He actually flew the C-17 back here to Washington DC through Colorado. So we talked about the C-17.
“One of the discussions was doing some exchanges with their C-17 folks and ours. The other things that he talked about were the Indian Air Force — the Indian military is trying to develop a space command.”
Browne was also in Colorado Springs to visit the US Air Force Space Command. “So we talked about our potential to show them how we do it, some of the education that’s available, some of the organisational things, some of the things we learned as we stood up a space command a long time ago,” the general said.