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Editorial Articles


Issue no 15, 08-14 July 2023

 

Practising Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

India-US Partnership Embraces Global Interconnectedness

 

Ritesh Kumar

While it may have taken three-quarters of a century for India and the US to build a robust economicstrategic partnership, the convergence of interests and growing confidence between these two largest democracies is now at its peak. Both President of the United States Mr. Joe Biden and Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi have recognised the immense potential of this partnership. They have prioritised strengthening semiconductor supply chains, advancing critical technologies, and enhancing defence partnership. The involvement of businesses, academic institutions, and the peaceful and contributory Indian diaspora has played a vital role in fostering goodwill and propelling the relationship forward. The two democracies are natural partners in both the hard spaces of economics and strategy and the soft spaces of shared values and interests. The relationship holds immense potential to shape the global landscape in the years to come.

DEFENCE DYNAMICS: The strategic relationship between India and the United States has steadily evolved since the end of the Cold War. Both nations have taken significant steps to enhance their defence cooperation, moving beyond a mere buyer-seller relationship. The latest India-US defence deals signify a geo-strategic shift and hold tremendous implications for India's war-fighting capabilities and the overall bilateral strategic partnership. The India-US defence relations commenced in 1995, with a mutual agreement "to establish defence ties." Over the years, the partnership deepened, culminating in the signing of a "framework of defence relationship" in 2005. Under the framework, initially, India sourced various military platforms from the US, including aircraft like the C-17, C-130, and maritime reconnaissance planes like the Boeing P8I. Notably, these acquisitions did not involve technology transfer. However, addressing the joint press conference after meeting with visiting Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, US President Mr. Joe Biden demonstrated a paradigm shift in the bilateral defence relationship by saying, "We have made critical and emerging technologies the pillar of our next-generation partnership." As evident from the agreements made so far, over the next three decades, the integration of US-origin technology will become an integral part of India's warfighting capabilities.

US-Origin Engines for Fighter Jets: A significant development is the collaboration between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the production of GE-F414 engines in India. This technology transfer, with 80% of the engine's technology being shared, marks a substantial strategic shift. Approximately 440 fighter jets to be manufactured in India, including Tejas Mark 1A, Tejas Mark 2, Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighters (TEDBF), and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), are expected to incorporate USorigin engines

Enhanced Capabilities and Co-Development: The higher-powered F414 engine, with its 98 kilo Newton (kN) thrust, will significantly enhance the performance of future Indian fighter jets. The compatibility of the F414 engine with the planned 40 AMCA jets further strengthens the technological cooperation. Additionally, GE has proposed co-developing and co-manufacturing a more powerful 110 kN thrust engine for the subsequent AMCA version. This collaboration showcases a long-term commitment to mutually augmenting indigenous defence capabilities.

Access to Armed Drones: India's acquisition of armed drones, particularly the MQ-9B manufactured by General Atomics, holds immense strategic significance. These drones provide advanced sensors, extended range, endurance, electronic surveillance capabilities, and the ability to carry weapons. With the MQ-9Bs being assembled in India and the establishment of a comprehensive global maintenance and repair facility, India aims to bolster its indigenous defence capabilities. The 24x7 surveillance capability and target precision make these drones instrumental in enhancing India's military readiness

Strengthening Naval Capabilities: The deployment of armed drones at sea complements India's existing fleet of P8I surveillance planes. The drones enable seamless integration with sonobuoys (underwater surveillance devices) and offer extended focus on targets, further enhancing maritime domain awareness. Additionally, the deployment of drones in the Himalayan region allows for effective monitoring of vast and otherwise inaccessible areas along the India-China border.

Expanding MRO Capabilities: The recent repair of a US Navy ship, the USNS Charles Drew, at L&T's shipyard in Chennai, signifies an important milestone in the strategic partnership. Building on this success, the US Navy is finalising ship repair agreements with Mazagon Docks Limited, Mumbai, and Goa Shipyard. These agreements enable midvoyage US Navy ships to undergo costeffective and time-saving repairs in India. The establishment of logistic, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for aircraft and vessels further strengthens the defence industrial roadmap.

Defence Advantages of Space and Semi-Conductors: The collaborative efforts between India and the United States in the domains of space exploration, semiconductors, and information sharing have far-reaching implications for the defence sector. The two democracies have forged a strong partnership in space missions, exemplified by the upcoming joint manned mission to the International Space Station. Additionally, the NASAISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite, scheduled for launch in 2024, holds great potential for applications such as snow and glacier studies and coastal monitoring, especially along India's borders with China and Pakistan. This collaboration not only enhances scientific knowledge but also bolsters space-based surveillance capabilities, benefiting the defence sector of both countries. Moreover, India's involvement in the Artemis Accords and the joint construction of a Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory further strengthen the mutual interests in space exploration and scientific advancements. Meanwhile, the semiconductor industry plays a crucial role in military applications, including avionics, guided missiles, and computing systems. Recognising the significance of this sector, India and the US have fostered collaboration to overcome limited domestic capacities and technological advancements. Investments from prominent companies like Micron Technology and Applied Materials, coupled with engineering training by Lam Research, are expected to create an ecosystem that not only benefits the commercial sector but also spills over into military and strategic domains. This collaboration empowers the defence sector with cutting-edge semiconductor technologies, bolstering both nations' defence capabilities and fostering technological self-sufficiency

Information Sharing and Defence Cooperation: The strengthening of information sharing and defence cooperation between India and the US has substantial implications for security. The placement of Indian liaison officers in key US commands deepens the critical exchange of information, particularly in the undersea domain. The ongoing discussions regarding Security of Supply Arrangement and Reciprocal Defence Procurement Arrangement further enhance supply chain resilience and ensure the uninterrupted availability of defence goods. This collaborative framework enables co-production of advanced systems, collaborative research, testing, and prototyping, thus shaping the future of military power.

Strategic Boost for Indo-Pacific Agenda With the transfer of critical technologies and the acquisition of advanced military platforms, India enhances its ability to safeguard its territorial integrity and maritime interests. This, in turn, aligns with the US objective of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. India's improved maritime domain awareness, bolstered by the deployment of armed drones and surveillance capabilities, contributes to the broader intelligencegathering efforts in the region. These capabilities enable effective monitoring of activities at sea, including potential threats from adversaries. India's strategic shift towards self-reliance also aligns with the US interest in promoting regional stability by encouraging capable allies and partners to shoulder greater responsibilities in safeguarding shared interests. Moreover, by allowing midvoyage US Navy ships to undergo service and repair in India, both countries benefit from cost-effective and time-saving solutions. This partnership fosters interoperability, enhances naval readiness, and strengthens the collective capabilities of India and the US in the Indo-Pacific. Overall, though technological collaboration, intelligence sharing, and joint operational initiatives, India and the US forge a stronger strategic partnership that bolsters regional security, promotes freedom of navigation, and counterbalances potential threats in the Indo-Pacific. In the face of multidomain and multifront threats, burden-sharing becomes a coping strategy. India and the US are well-suited to engage in such burden-sharing in the Indo-Pacific region. Nevertheless, while there are growing convergences, both countries must prioritise their own political, economic, and military interests. It is crucial to create opportunities for partnership within the framework of a "Partnership" rather than an "Alliance," as this distinction is likely to persist in the near to midterm. India's aspiration for self-reliance, encapsulated in the concept of Atamnirbharta, necessitates a pragmatic roadmap for capability building. This includes acquiring critical resources, skills, technology, precision manufacturing capabilities, and financing while overcoming security-related barriers. India's recent defence sector reforms, such as FDI policies, strategic partnerships, indigenous manufacturing, technology transfers, and import restrictions, need to align with the interests of partners and viable business models. Moreover, defence trade plays a significant role in strategic partnerships, often facilitating 'Transfer of Technology' (ToT). While the two countries have set the ball rolling by agreeing for ToT in the latest deals, sustaining the enabling power of ToT is essential. Furthermore, India's Defence Space and Cyber agencies are in the early stages of development and require strengthening and integration with national structures to collaborate effectively with their US counterparts. The composition, functioning, and role of defence cooperation mechanisms need to be synchronised and oriented towards collaboration and interoperability in asymmetric domains. Over time, this shift will render concerns over the origin of military platforms insignificant. Hence, steady progress in this realm will depend on navigating the current realities with pragmatism and a deep understanding of each other's national interests and priorities.

OTHER KEY DEALS & PARTNERSHIPS The foundation of the India-US bilateral relationship is rooted in their shared commitment to defence and strategic cooperation. However, notable progress has been made in expanding their alliance to encompass a more comprehensive and multifaceted approach, as evidenced by the various deals and understandings reached in other significant domains enlisted below:

       I.            Advanced Telecommunications: India and the United States launched public-private Joint Task Forces to develop and deploy Open RAN (Radio Access Network) systems and advance telecom research and development. India's Bharat 6G and the US Next G Alliance will co-lead this research.

    II.            Quantum, Advanced Computing, and Artificial Intelligence: India and the United States established a Joint Indo-US Quantum Coordination Mechanism to facilitate joint research in these fields between the public and private sectors of both countries

 III.            Cutting-edge Research: The US National Science Foundation announced 35 joint research collaborations with the Indian Department of Science and Technology and signed a cooperative arrangement with the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on emerging technologies

  IV.            Innovation Handshake: The US-India Commercial Dialogue launched the "Innovation Handshake" to connect the startup ecosystems of both countries, supporting the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET)

     V.            Fiber Optics Investments: India's Sterlite Technologies Limited invested $100 million in constructing an optical fiber cable manufacturing unit near Columbia, South Carolina, enabling $150 million in annual exports of optical fiber from India.

  VI.            Visas, Student Exchanges, and More:

·         Domestic Visa Renewals: The US Department of State will pilot a programme allowing domestic renewals of certain petition-based temporary work visas, eliminating the need for Indian nationals to leave the country for renewal.

·         New Consulates: The United States intends to open new consulates in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, while India plans to open a consulate in Seattle and announce two new consulates in the US

·         Student Exchanges and Scholarships: A Joint Task Force was launched between the Association of American Universities and leading Indian educational institutions to promote student exchanges and collaborations.

·         University Research Partnerships: The launch of a university network of Indo-US Global Challenge Institutes was announced, fostering research partnerships and exchanges in agriculture, energy, health, and technology.

VII.            Cultural Property: Negotiations continue for a Cultural Property Agreement between the United States and India to prevent illegal trafficking of cultural property and enhance cooperation in protecting and exchanging cultural artifacts.

VIII.            Historic Aviation Deals: Air India's agreement with Boeing to acquire over 200 American-made aircraft will support more than one million jobs in the US and contribute to the modernisation of India's civil aviation sector

  IX.            Resolving Trade Issues Through Trust: The resolution of six outstanding World Trade Organisation disputes and market access understandings on significant products demonstrate the willingness of both countries to resolve trade issues

     X.            Global Stage & Diplomacy:

·         Indo-Pacific: The United States joined the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative to promote a safe and stable maritime domain.

·         Indian Ocean: An Indian Ocean Dialogue will convene officials from the US and India, along with experts and stakeholders from the region, to enhance regional coordination.

·         Global Cooperation: The United States and India intend to hold another Global Issues Forum meeting this year to collaborate on challenges like human trafficking, food insecurity, and disaster relief.

·         Enhancing India's Role in Global Governance: The United States expressed support for India's permanent membership in a reformed UN Security Council, Indian membership in the International Energy Agency, and advancing Indian membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was also invited to the APEC Summit.

XI      Digital Partnership: The United States and India will establish a USIndia Global Digital Development Partnership to address development challenges in emerging economies, leveraging technology and resources from both countries.

XII     "Triangular" Cooperation Partnership: The US Agency for International Development and India's Ministry of External Affairs will collaborate on training healthcare experts from Fiji in India to share knowledge and best practices on post-disaster psychosocial and telemedicine services.

XIII   Sustainable Development and Global Health:

·         Energy Collaboration: India and the United States will work together to achieve their respective climate and energy under India’s National Green Hydrogen Mission and the US Hydrogen Earth Shot.

·         Investing in America's Clean Energy Infrastructure: India's VSK Energy LLC will invest up to $1.5 billion to develop a vertically integrated solar panel manufacturing operation in the US, including a 2.0 GW module-andcell manufacturing plant in Colorado.

·         Investment Platforms for Green Technology: Innovative investment platforms will be created to attract private finance at scale for renewable energy, battery storage, and emerging green technology projects in India.

·         Decarbonising Transportation Sector: USAID signed an MOU with the Ministry of Railways to collaborate on Indian Railways' target to become a "net-zero" carbon emitter by 2030.

·         Biofuels Initiative: The Global Biofuels Alliance, with the US as a founding member, will facilitate cooperation in accelerating the use of biofuels.

·         Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure Education Initiative: USAID committed up to $5 million for the Infrastructure Resilience Academic Exchange (IRAX) to offer education and research opportunities on disaster resilient architecture and create a global network of academic institutions.

·         Accelerating the Fight Against Cancer and Diabetes: The US National Cancer Institute will collaborate with Indian scientists through grants to develop an AI enabled digital pathology platform.

·         Counter-narcotics Cooperation: The United States and India are developing a comprehensive bilateral counternarcotics framework to disrupt the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, showcasing a secure pharmaceutical supply chain model.

 

CONCLUSION: The deepening partnership between India and the United States, marked by their focus on technology-driven collaborations, resonates strongly with the Indian ethos of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" - the belief that the world is one family. This ancient philosophy encapsulates the idea of global interconnectedness and emphasizes the importance of harmonious coexistence. By fostering innovation, knowledge sharing, and sustainable development through their multi-dimensional partnership, India and the United States exemplify the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam on a global scale. Their joint endeavors not only benefit their own nations but also contribute to the progress and well-being of humanity as a whole, reinforcing the shared values and aspirations that unite them. Through the lens of technology, they strive to build bridges of understanding, collaboration, and inclusive growth, transcending borders and fostering a world that embraces diversity and collective progress.

 

The author is a Delhi based correspondent for an International multimedia platform. He can be reached at riteshkumar1926@gmail.com

 

Views expressed are personal.