21. Message From Robert Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the Ambassador to India (Bowles)1

Bundy and I can’t help but feel that Orpheus engine for HF–242 is our secret weapon for sidetracking Soviet MIG and possibly SAM deals.3 You yourself have pointed out how going ahead with HF–24 would also pander to Indian nationalism, while being the course least painful to the Paks. This track is also a lot easier than SAMs from here, which are out.

We understand that if UK would only get Bristol to put two of the test engines into flyable conditions, it should cost less than $1 million. Bristol of course is holding out for commitment on full develop ment [Page 47]and tooling up cost first but surely HMG could make them see the light. Why shouldn’t this be top priority claim on UK military aid?

We’ve been touting this here, and have gotten DOD to raise in London. But it badly needs another big push from you and Gore-Booth now, if we’re not to shut the barn door just after the horse is gone. Needless to say, our intervention is private to you.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, India, Exchanges with Bowles. Secret. Notes on the message indicate that it was sent priority [text not declassified] as CAP 64063.
  2. HF–24 was a fighter aircraft manufactured in India.
  3. In a February 27 memorandum to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs William Bundy, Komer noted that President Johnson had read telegram 2457 from New Delhi (see footnote 2, Document 20) and was concerned about the inroads the Soviet Union was making in the Indian military establishment. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 306, India, 091.31–320.2)
  4. The last sentence was added in Komer’s handwriting. Bowles reported on February 28 that he had discussed U.S. concern over Soviet military sales to India with Defense Minister Chavan in the context of a possible 5-year military assistance program. Chavan indicated that Indian withdrawal from the agreement concerning the MIGs would be difficult, and he asked if the United States could provide some high-performance aircraft to fill the gap until the MIGs and improved HF–24s became available in 1967. (Telegram 2544 from New Delhi; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 19–3 US–INDIA) On March 5 the Department instructed the Embassy to make certain that the Indian Government understood the circumstances under which they might obtain assistance for the Indian Air Force from the West, and also instructed the Embassy to ensure that the Indians understood the problems they would encounter if they relied on the Soviet Union. (Telegram 1782 to New Delhi; ibid.)