India and US must leverage Defence Technology and Trade Initiative for mutual benefit
The Modi administration wants to create new jobs in India, while President Trump is keenly focused on increasing American exports. This makes joint US-India manufacturing, co-production, and co-development a common goalanalysis Updated: Nov 29, 2017 16:32 IST
There is a real possibility that the end of America’s “unipolar moment” in Asia will be followed not by an enduring multipolar environment where India has room to thrive, but rather by Chinese regional hegemony. The only realistic bulwark against this outcome is a robust partnership between India and the United States. And even that is a necessary, but insufficient condition for a free and “rules based security architecture in the Indo-Pacific” — to use the recent phraseology of American diplomats.
This reality goes a long way to explaining why there is no shortage of pronouncements attesting to the strategic convergence, common values, and deepening friendship between America and India. Embracing India is one of the few positions that draws not only wide bipartisan support in Washington DC, but unites disparate factions within the Democratic and Republican parties. There is also increasing recognition in New Delhi that India needs foreign partners to manage the risks associated with China’s ascendancy. And the United States is still the most capable military and economic force on the planet.
Yet, rhetorical recognition of these realities isn’t enough to prompt effective action. A convergence of national interests must be matched by a convergence of organisational and personal interests. In other words, a robust partnership will only emerge once Indians and Americans are brought together in practical pursuits that serve common goals.
In 2012 the US and Indian governments launched an effort that became known as the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that has been the focal point of government to government efforts to increase defence collaboration. Yet while successful in significant respects, DTTI has failed to produce major industrial collaboration. And the reason is simple: It didn’t bring the right people together.
It’s time to reset DTTI in a manner that facilitates match making in the defence sector.
There are plenty of matches to be made. The Modi administration wants to create new jobs in India, while President Trump is keenly focused on increasing American exports. This makes joint US-India manufacturing, co-production, and co-development a common goal.
American national security leaders look at the growing capability gap between the Chinese military and the militaries of neighbouring states and fear a provocative and destabilising imbalance of power. India’s military services – by their leadership’s own admission – see gaps in India’s military capabilities. This makes the provision of advanced American weapons systems to India a common goal, particularly now that the United States is offering unprecedented lethal technologies.
The BJP, India’s military services, and India’s major business conglomerates find common cause in increasing India’s private sector participation in the defence industry. American companies similarly see huge opportunities for private partnerships when they look at India’s defence market, labour supply, and engineering expertise and consider the benefits of linking Indian companies to global supply chains.
These are all good matches. The DTTI should now focus on the mechanics of making these matches stick.
To do so, the DTTI dialogues should include participation by Indian officials who represent the interests of India’s military services as well as the Modi government’s initiative to increase private sector participation in defence production. This would include the Indian secretary of defence and secretary of defence industrial policy and promotion.
Second, the Indian government should use the DTTI to formally communicate to both the US government and American industry the defence capabilities the ministry of defence seeks to acquire and its timeline for doing so. This will allow American industry to identify opportunities for co-production and co-development that are profitable and therefore economically viable. In concert the US government could then develop policies and security procedures that allow for maximum allowable technology release to India.
Third, the DTTI agenda should be set to correspond with India’s “strategic partnership” acquisition procedures. The US government’s Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure process for global foreign military sales and direct commercial sales is not tailored to India’s unique acquisition procedures. The DTTI dialogues can fill this gap between the two different bureaucratic systems, which was the original purpose of DTTI when it was first created.
The next major opportunity for outcome driven US-India defence engagement is the “2+2” when the U.S. secretary of defence and secretary of state meet together with India’s minister of defence and minister of external affairs. These officials are positioned to drive practical and pragmatic collaboration, but it will only go as far as common interests allow. It’s essential that the right people from both the private and public sectors be present.
Benjamin Schwartz is senior director for defence and aerospace at the US-India Business Council, and formerly served as India director in the office of the secretary of defence.
The views expressed are personal