India and US are planning to revitalise a defence technology sharing pact by putting several new ideas

  • Focus on startups
  • The possibility of exports to identified third nations and focusing on practical industry partnerships.
  • Including setting up of an industry forum that can identify and suggest practical projects that can be taken up in the future.
  • To identify projects for cooperation in the field of space technology.

One of the first priorities of the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to take stock of the ‘global strategic partnership’ with the United States (US) which has emerged in recent years as an indispensable partner in India’s economic transformation and the realisation of its aspiration to play a bigger role on the global stage. The defence partnership, a key pillar of the relationship, which has blossomed. USA’s Interests:

  • The US sees the defence partnership in the context of its Building Partner Capacity programmes. It increasingly regards India as a potential ally in dealing with the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific, notably China’s growing economic and military assertiveness.
  •  India’s importance as a market for arms supplies, next only to Saudi Arabia, is also a major factor.

India’s interests:

  • India’s immediate objective is to rapidly build its defence capabilities, in order to better deal with potential threats on its northern and western land borders and in the Indian Ocean. It needs the latest technologies to pursue its ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme in defence manufacturing.

Defence engagements:

  • The first-ever 2+2 dialogue against the backdrop of burgeoning joint exercises such as Cope-India (Air Force), Yudh Abhyas (Army) and Vajra Prahar (Special Forces). The two sides are also increasingly engaged in multi-lateral exercises such as the MALABAR, RED FLAG and RIMPAC, covering the broad expanse of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The US has recently renamed its Pacific Command as the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), an acknowledgement of the seamless connectivity that binds the Pacific and Indian Oceans and India’s growing importance.
  • India has purchased nearly US$ 18 billion worth of arms from the US, including sophisticated C-17 and C-130J transport planes, state-of-the-art P-8i maritime reconnaissance aircraft, Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 howitzers. These are among the most sophisticated and lethal platforms of their kind.
  • The agreements signed include Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) signed in August 2016. It gives access to both countries and to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.
  • BECA: It facilitates the exchange of geospatial information between India and US for both military and civilian use.
  • Fuel Exchange Agreement signed in November 2015, Technical Agreement (TA) on information sharing on  White (merchant) Shipping signed in May 2016 and the Information Exchange Annex (IEA) on Aircraft Carrier Technologies signed in June 2016.
  • DTTI: India and the United States have launched a Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
  •  aimed at simplifying technology transfer policies and exploring possibilities of co-development co-production to invest the defence relationship with strategic value. 
  • COMCASA is meant to facilitate the use of high-end secured communication equipment to be installed on military platforms being sold to India by the US to fully exploit their potential. It essentially provides the legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that will facilitate interoperability between armed forces of both countries and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secured data links.
  • DTTI: India and the United States have launched a Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
  • aimed at simplifying technology transfer policies and exploring possibilities of co-development co-production to invest the defence relationship with strategic value. 
  • The DTTI Working Group and its Task Force will expeditiously evaluate and decide on unique projects and technologies which would have a transformative impact on bilateral defence relations and enhance India's defence industry and military capabilities.
  • India is in talks with the United States to procure NASAMS-II(NATIONAL ADVANCED SURFACE TO AISR MISSILE SYSTEM): It features new 3D mobile surveillance radars and 12 missile launchers for quicker reaction. NASAMS-II is the highly adaptable mid-range solution for any operational air defence requirement.

Major irritants:

  •  Looming large over the Indo-US defence co-operation is the shadow of India’s continued reliance on Russia for key defence imports. 
  • US Congress had passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). According to this Act, sanctions could be imposed on any country indulging in the procurement of weapons from a foreign so-called “rogue” government.
  • Russian and US platforms are incompatible in terms of communications security, the USA is particularly apprehensive about the potential for compromising US platforms when operating alongside the Russian S-400 system.
  • India’s contract for the sophisticated S-400 air defence missile system has been red-flagged by the US as potentially significant for triggering sanctions under to identify projects for cooperation in the field of space technology.
  • Bilateral disputes impacting the security partnership: The United States and India do not have decades of experience managing irritants in their relationship. There is a risk that bilateral disputes in the commercial or trade sector could bleed into and affect the defence relationship, or that short-sighted policy decisions could have long-term strategic ramifications.
  • DTTI frustration: While Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) has served as a “silent enabler” to support greater defence technology cooperation between the United States and India, it has also generated frustration as it has often been perceived, incorrectly, as a venue for fast-tracking sole-source contracts on major defence articles. Technologies identified for co-development and production were unviable and of questionable commercial potential and operational requirements.

Way forward:

  • Explore forward-leaning opportunities to operationalize foundational agreements like LEMOA and COMCASA.
  • Focus on co-production opportunities: Both countries should be more aggressively exploring co-production opportunities, particularly in next-generation areas that would give a needed boost to the partnership.
  • Launch DTTI 2.0: DTTI should be reinvigorated, with an explicit mandate to drive cooperative research, development, and production of defence technologies. The DTTI must develop further ties with the Indian industry.
  • India should take a strategic view of the remaining foundational agreements with the US in order to facilitate the transfer of key technologies necessary for building capacities to meet the growing challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

Also read: LNG Deal Between India And US  India And Australia – Development Of The Relations