The ruling National Democratic Alliance government is all set to prepare a roadmap to foster new levels of defence ties with the US under which American defence companies will be encouraged to build partnerships with Indian companies for joint programmes under the Make in India initiative, under the leadership of US President Elect Donald Trump.
Within two weeks of the new US president being announced, India has finally cleared the much awaited acquisition of 145 M777A2 LW155 Ultra Light Howitzer guns through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route valued at $737 million. The new contract will also assure speedy supply of fully operational 25 M777 artillery guns and the remaining 120 artillery guns will be jointly assembled in the country in partnership with the Mahindra Group.
Once US president elect Donald Trump formally assumes office in January, India will finalise purchases of 22 Predator Guardian drones, other armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and 245 Stringer air to air missiles from the United States.
The countries signed a landmark defence agreement on Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which will now also allow the two defence forces to collaborate and use each other's military bases for repair and replenishments. Since 2011, India has purchased weaponry and defence platforms worth $15 billion from United States.
The US-India joint statement issued on June 7, 2016 after talks between US President Barack Obama and visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said, “Noting that the US-India defence relationship can be an anchor of stability and given the increasingly strengthened cooperation in defence, the United States hereby recognizes India as a major defence partner.”
During the April visit of US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, the Indo-US joint statement said, "In support of Make in India, the United States shared two proposals to bolster India’s suite of fighter aircraft for consideration of the Government of India.”
India is now hoping that under the Trump leadership, the bilateral defence relationship, which is largely based on a buy-and-sell policy, will shift more towards co-development and co-production of defence projects. India and US have already set up the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) – the forum to identify defence projects which can be co-developed in India. However, no major defence project has been cleared for co-production and co-development yet.
Two major programmes being discussed under DTTI include transfer of technology for the proposed Indian aircraft carrier, and sharing of engine technology.
There are positive signs of an early conclusion on transfer of technology for the aircraft carrier, India’s second homemade one, and the two sides are closer to an agreement on transfer of technology for the carrier, which is still in the drawing table. The first phase of carrier cooperation has begun – during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Washington, the information exchange agreement that was concluded will allow now for consulting contracts relating to carrier design. The project on jet engine technology cooperation will be concluded in 2017 itself which will permit GE to both assemble the F414 engine in India while collaborating with Indian Research and Development (R&D) institutions to design the upgraded variant with greater thrust for both the US Navy and the Indian Air Force.
Indian diplomats point out that defence programmes will take off first in the Make in India category before the execution of a major defence projects under the DTTI because of bureaucratic delays both in India and US.
“The defence cooperation between India and the US has been one of the pillars on which the relationship has grown. The two countries are looking at ways to deepen this relationship as well as expand it to include more transfer of technology and joint development and production. Both India and the US are working towards the goal of joint production and redevelopment in the defence sector. The modalities have to be worked on, but both countries are exploring means through they can achieve this goal.”
On Make in India, Boeing recently in a statement said, “Make in India is not only a government campaign, it is a core element of Boeing’s business strategy. Therefore, Boeing has accelerated its pace of investments, capitalizing on the Indian capability and talent. Boeing’s sourcing from India has doubled in recent years and now stands close to half a billion dollars a year. By 2020, Boeing expects that sourcing will increase four times the 2014 level.”
The ruling Modi government is better inclined to increase defence cooperation with the United States thus attempts to intensify the same are likely to be enhanced particularly in terms of joint training exercises with possibility of a logistics support.
However, joint development of hi-tech weapons systems poses a challenge due to differential in capacity for absorption by the Indian defence research and development establishment as well as the defence industry, regulatory and Intellectual Property Rights issues.
The most important features of the India US strategic partnership are in defence and security cooperation. Defence cooperation is not just procurement of equipment but a number of other issues as well such as joint partnership in technology sharing which are being addressed as well. Future prospect of this cooperation are bright and it is progressing at a steady pace. The Indian defence requirements are manifold and the US technology is one of the best. India is looking beyond its traditional partners and the US is one of them.
Taking a long-term perspective, it is clear that both India and United States have a lot going together, in terms of defence ties in the form of joint defence production, enhanced nature of joint military training and exchanges, among others.
With the new Trump administration assuming office in January 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to continue the policy of positive neutrality, thereby indicating to Washington that it was one of the many strategic partners of India which will be preferred in areas of comfort for both the countries.
With inputs from sources