135. Telegram From Prime Minister Macmillan to President Kennedy 0

T.293/62. Message Begins.

Dear Friend

The more we consider the question of the fighter programme for the Indian Air Force from the point of view of making an attractive offer to India, the clearer it becomes that the Indians must be even more concerned with possible methods of payment than with the quality or even the cost of goods and services supplied.
On the particular question you put to me in your last message1 I am of course most grateful for your offer of the loan of F-104s. Accept-ance [Page 267] of this offer would however present us with serious training and logistic difficulties. We are equally grateful to you for offering to deploy fighter squadrons to cover any gap created here. Perhaps I could leave this over for the time being.
Lightning Mark I’s of which we have three squadrons now in front line service in the Royal Air Force would be most unlikely to satisfy Indian requirements. I cannot see the Indians accepting secondhand aircraft however good; also they would need to be refurbished which would take time.
Despite its relatively short range, the Lightning Mark 2 is a better aircraft than the MIG because of its superior night fighter capacity. It will cost about #600,000. At a sacrifice which we would only accept because of the major political factors which you mention, we could let the Indians have every other one off the production line; this would give them eight aircraft by the end of 1962 and thereafter two or three a month up to a total of twenty four aircraft.
In order to avoid our own difficulties with Pakistan we should in any case have to look to the United States Government to meet the difference in cost between these aircraft and the MIG 21s at the price for which the Russians have offered these to India. It remains most important in my view that the Indians should go on with their plans to manufacture H.F. 24s and we therefore consider the developing of the Orpheus 12 engine to be the more important part of our counter-offer to India. I should be grateful for confirmation that the United States will contribute 75 per cent of the cost of development.
I should add that if the Indians commit themselves to a purchase of Lightning Mark 2s they will also need to buy two dual type aircraft for training; an outfit of Fire Streak air-to-air missile and a flight simulator: the total bill for these additional requirements would amount to some five million pounds.
The major problem still remains. It is clearly quite impossible for India to pay us for the aircraft (even at three hundred thousand pounds each) and the training facilities and ammunition to a total amount of twelve million pounds except in blocked rupees, which are of no use to us and with which British firms are already embarrassingly well supplied. In our present economic situation I am unable to agree to what amounts to a free gift to India on this scale.
The solution would be for you to meet the full cost of supplying the aircraft. The only alternative that we can see is that these goods and services should be supplied to India in replacements for an equivalent amount of civil aid under existing aid programmes. I suspect that there would be considerable fractional difficulties about this, but in any case it is obviously not a suggestion which the Indian Government would accept unless they realized that by buying MIGs they run the risk of curtailment or cessation of American aid which I mentioned in my message to you of June 7.2
My conclusion therefore is that the only factor which might bring the Indians to heel would be the fear of losing a substantial part of the large scale aid which they receive from the United States. It seems to us therefore that the best course might be for you to send a personal message to Nehru warning him that a decision by India to buy armaments from Russia might prejudice the attitude of Congress so gravely as to endanger seriously India’s future prospects of obtaining continuing aid on the present scale from the United States.
I should be glad to have your reactions to the ideas I have set out above, and also to learn what reply you have had from the French about the possibility of their supplying Mirages.300

Yours sincerely,

Harold Macmillan
  1. Source: Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 66 D 204, Macmillan Correspondence with Kennedy, 1962, Vol. III. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The telegram apparently was sent to the British Embassy to be conveyed to the White House.
  2. Document 134.
  3. See Document 133.
  4. The French Embassy informed the Department on June 9 that France would have difficulty in offering to supply two squadrons of Mirage II fighters to India. The difficulty lay in a currency problem. The French were concerned that to sell for Indian rupees or on soft terms could not be kept secret and would have undesirable effects on French sales in other parts of the world. (Telegram 6624 to Paris, June 9; Department of State, Central Files, 791.5622/6-962)