India, US Finalise Roadmap for Fast-Tracking Defence Tech Transfer

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India and the US on Monday concluded an ambitious roadmap for defence industrial cooperation to fast-track technology tie-ups and co-production of military platforms like air combat and land systems, a move that comes amid China’s increasingly aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific.

Besides firming up the roadmap two weeks ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, in their wide-ranging talks, also agreed to initiate negotiations on the security of supply arrangement and a reciprocal defence procurement pact to promote supply chain stability.

At a media briefing, the US defence secretary said the US-India cooperation matters “because we all face a rapidly changing world. We see bullying and coercion from the People’s Republic of China and Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders and threatens national sovereignty.”

Austin, who arrived in Delhi on Sunday on a two-day visit, said the India-US partnership is a “cornerstone” for a free and open Indo-Pacific and that the US is putting its “full weight” behind supporting India’s defence modernisation.

The Pentagon said the roadmap aims to change the “paradigm” for cooperation between the US and Indian defence sectors, including the implementation of a set of specific proposals that could provide India access to cutting-edge technologies and support its defence modernisation plans.

It is learnt that Singh and Austin also touched upon General Electric’s proposal to share technology with India for fighter jet engines and New Delhi’s plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones for over USD 3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

The jet engine deal is likely to be announced during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US.

People familiar with the matter said both projects will be part of the roadmap that will also provide for cooperation in areas of intelligence sharing, surveillance and reconnaissance, munitions and the undersea domain.

“We established an ambitious new roadmap for defence industrial cooperation with a fast-track (and) high-priority for co-development and co-production projects and to build closer ties between our defence industries,” Austin said at a media briefing.

“We look forward to advancing some of those projects during the upcoming visits,” he said, indirectly referring to Modi’s upcoming tour of the US.

Describing the US-India relationship as one of the most “consequential” ones, he said Washington only shares technologies with countries that it absolutely trusts.

“There is an increasing desire for us to share (them) with partners here in India.”

Austin said the US-India partnership is a “cornerstone” for a free and open Indo-Pacific and the deepening of the ties showed how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between the two “great powers” can be a force for global good.

The US defence secretary also held separate talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

In a statement, the defence ministry said both sides will identify opportunities for the co-development of new technologies and the co-production of existing and new systems besides facilitating increasing collaboration between defence start-up ecosystems of the two countries.

“Towards these objectives, they concluded a roadmap for US-India defence industrial cooperation which shall guide the policy direction for the next few years,” it said.

The ministry said the meeting between Singh and Austin was “warm and cordial” and the two sides discussed a ”substantial range” of bilateral defence cooperation issues, with a particular focus on identifying ways to strengthen industrial cooperation.

The Pentagon said the new roadmap will “fast-track technology cooperation and co-production in areas such as air combat and land mobility systems; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; munitions; and the undersea domain.”

“The Secretary and Minister Singh also pledged to review regulatory hurdles impeding closer industry-to-industry cooperation and to initiate negotiations on a Security of Supply Arrangement and a Reciprocal Defence Procurement agreement, which will promote long-term supply chain stability,” it said.

In a series of tweets, Singh said the talks revolved around enhancing defence cooperation in several areas including the convergence of strategic interests and security cooperation.

“India-US partnership is critical for ensuring a free, open and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region. We look forward to closely work with the US across the domains for capacity building and further consolidating our strategic partnership,” Singh said.

The Pentagon said Austin and Singh also committed to strengthening operational collaboration across all military services, with an eye to supporting India’s leading role as a security provider in the Indo-Pacific.

“They discussed new opportunities to strengthen information sharing and increase cooperation in the maritime domain. On this note, Secretary Austin welcomed India’s leadership role in the Quad Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative (IPMDA), which will provide cutting-edge domain awareness capability to countries across the Indo-Pacific region,” it said.

In his meeting with NSA Doval, Austin exchanged views about regional and global security issues of concern, including maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.

“The Secretary welcomed Doval’s perspective about shared security interests and objectives, including his ideas for greater maritime collaboration,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“In all of his engagements, the Secretary underscored the centrality of the US-India partnership to maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region,” it added.

The defence ministry said both sides reviewed the robust and multifaceted bilateral defence cooperation activities and agreed to maintain the momentum of engagement.

“They welcomed the inaugural dialogues held recently focusing on defence artificial intelligence and defence space. They also discussed the regional security issues given their shared interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” it said.

In his remarks at the media briefing, Austin said that as the world’s two largest democracies, India and the US have a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order that “keeps us all secure”.

“Our global and strategic partnership has continued to rapidly grow. Today the US-India partnership is a cornerstone for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our deepening bond shows how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between two great powers can be a force for global good,” he said.

Secretary Austin described his talks with Singh and Doval as “productive”

“Democracies must now rally together in common interests and shared values. Preserving and protecting freedom are essential to peace and prosperity and require vigorous leadership from the US and India,” he said.

“So we still have a lot of work to do. I am confident that the US-India partnership will help secure an open and prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific and the wider world,” he said.

The Pentagon said Austin and Singh also discussed the growing importance of defence innovation and cooperation in emerging domains such as space, cyberspace, and artificial intelligence.

“They also welcomed the establishment of the India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X), a new initiative to advance cutting-edge technology cooperation,” it said.

“The initiative, which will be launched by the US-India Business Council on June 21, is designed to complement existing government-to-government collaboration by promoting innovative partnerships between US and Indian companies, investors, start-up accelerators, and academic research institutions,” it said.

It is Secretary Austin’s second visit to India. His previous trip to the country was in March 2021.

“Great to meet again with my friend @rajnathsingh and thank him for his unwavering commitment to U.S.-India defense relations. His leadership has helped paved the way for deeper collaboration, joint exercises, and technology sharing between our two countries,” Austin tweeted.

In a major move, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced in May last year the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation.

The iCET is expected to forge closer linkages between the government, academia and industry of the two countries in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G and 6G, biotech, space and semiconductors.

The India-US defence and strategic ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.

The two countries have inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.

The two sides also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India.

In October 2020, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties.

The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)

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