Defence and Trade, besides people to people ties have emerged as the main barometer through which India-US ties could be described as a strategic partnership, and which could deliver the highest priorities for both
By Asad Mirza
EARLIER this month, during the visit of NSA Ajit Doval to the United States, India and the U.S. kick-started the inaugural dialogue on the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET). In addition, the two sides announced a set of programmes aimed at increasing the depth and scope of bilateral cooperation in cutting edge technology, including the defence sector.
The iCET aims to build supply chains, giving a boost to joint production and development between the countries and increase linkages between the Indian and American start-up ecosystems.
A White House ‘fact sheet’ released after the meeting highlighted six areas of planned cooperation: strengthening innovation ecosystems, defence innovation and technology cooperation, resilient semiconductor supply chains, space, STEM talent and next generation telecommunications.
Also announced was a private-public dialogue to further 5G/6G cooperation and the adoption of Open RAN (technology to connect phones to each other and to the internet) in India.
The U.S. also committed to a speedy review of an application from General Electric to produce jet engines in India for India-manufactured Light Combat Aircraft.
The initiative is a particularly significant milestone in the bilateral relationship, having been announced at the highest level – by PM Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden at the Quad summit in Tokyo in May 2022, which also shows the resolve of the two leaders to change the dynamics of Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship.
Reportedly, Washington is also considering easing export controls and restrictions on India. In a statement, the MEA said that export barriers to India in a few critical areas could be initiated through efforts towards legislative changes, while the White House in a statement said the Biden administration would work with the U.S. Congress to lower barriers to U.S. exports to India of high performance computing and source code technology.
The initiative comes at a time when the U.S. is seeking to out-compete China in critical technologies and tighten the screws on China’s semiconductor industry. Biden administration officials were quick to emphasise, however, that iCET is not just about China.
One senior Biden aide has been reported to have said that these efforts are about more than just China because this isn’t just about defence. This is a multi-layered approach in a lot of different places; this is about wanting to participate in India’s rise and the “next logical milestone” in the bilateral relationship.
The bilateral ties between India and the United States have witnessed considerable improvement owing to the political will of both the countries, who want to ensure that the India-U.S. ties remain on a growth track and become more profound.
But in this regard it would be much more appreciable if the U.S. administration initiates a joint production mechanism on the lines of the current U.S.-Israel defence projects, which is much more robust. Though India joined QUAD, it is a common perception that India has not been able to get what it really wanted from the U.S. for this cooperation. If there is some progress on the lines mentioned above, then it may help to completely transform the U.S.-India bilateral relations.
The current shared interests of India and the U.S. encompass humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism cooperation, fighting violent religious extremism, maritime security activities, weapons proliferation monitoring, regional stability maintenance and related aspects. With the US designating India as “Major Defence Partner,” a status unique to India, India is now at par with its closest allies. Though, this has opened doors to Indian procurement of sensitive defence technologies, thus, creating a new landscape for elevated Indo-U.S. cooperation, like signing of Defence Technologies and Trade Initiative (DTTI), BECA, COMCASA, LEMOA etc., yet much remains to be achieved.
Of the above-mentioned agreements, India and the United States signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement – BECA in October 2020, during the third round of 2+2 dialogue and it is considered to be a major milestone aimed at boosting bilateral defence cooperation.
The pact will allow the U.S. armed force to provide advanced navigational assistance and avionics on U.S.-supplied aircraft to India. India will get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and armed drones.
Additionally, India gets access to topographical and aeronautical data through the sharing of information on maps and satellite images, which will be helpful in navigation and targeting. It will also provide Indian military systems with a high-quality GPS to navigate missiles with real-time intelligence to precisely target the adversary.
Meanwhile, in December last year, the U.S. Senate passed the National Defence Authorisation Act – NDAA, along with a $858 billion defence bill seeking to strengthen defence ties with India, including supporting efforts to reduce India’s reliance on Russian-built military equipment and funds billions of dollars to take measures to address the challenges posed to America’s national security by China.
The NDAA seeks to strengthen U.S.-India relations by directing the Departments of Defence and State to pursue greater engagement and expanded cooperation with India related to emerging technology, joint research and development, defence and cyber capabilities, and other opportunities for collaboration.
The NDAA includes targeted investments, needed reforms, and enhanced oversight. It addresses a broad range of pressing issues, from the strategic competition with China and Russia, to disruptive technologies like hypersonic, AI, and quantum computing, to modernising our ships, aircraft, and other equipment.
But the NDAA should be looked at as an instrument through which the U.S. wants to steps up its capabilities, crucial to operations in the Indo-Pacific, from space assets to naval mines. Additionally, this means that the real aim of the bill is not bolstering the bilateral ties but to ensure Indian role in any action against China.
Moreover, we should also have a look at the defence agreements or purchases expected at the forthcoming Aero India-2023. Only if the U.S. offers any latest technology or equipment for the Indian defence forces, including joint production, then it will really mean that the bilateral defence ties are booming.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at www.asadmirza.in
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