Defense technology sharing on the rise between India, U.S.

Defense technology sharing on the rise between India, U.S.

Two major developments involving defense ties between Washington and New Delhi are paving the way for the production of more defense equipment in India with U.S. technology.

The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), signed by the countries in September 2018, enables them to share sensitive data and gives India clearance to obtain secure communications and data technology from the United States. Following that landmark agreement, the U.S. Senate in July 2019 passed legislation authorizing a “Strategic Trade Authorization 1 Status” (STA-1), which eases defense trade between India and the U.S. and the integration of their defense manufacturing supply chains.

“On paper, the STA-1 would enable India to access cutting-edge technologies with lesser licenses along the lines of what NATO nations currently enjoy,” Prateek Joshi, research associate at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, told FORUM. “Broadly, the list includes equipment for communication, aerospace tech, navigation, sensors, etc., but there may still be differences between the specific technology Indians are looking for and what the U.S. wants to share.”

Prior to the signing of COMCASA, Joshi explained, some U.S. communication technology was not provided to India in previous purchases of U.S. military equipment, such as the 2009 sale of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime multimission aircraft, pictured, to the Indian Navy. “They will now be accessible and would enable these platforms to function on the optimal level.”

In June 2019, India’s Ministry of Defense announced its procurement of 10 additional P-8Is.

Future purchases are expected to fall in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. Modi announced the policy in 2014 to promote manufacturing in the country, particularly in high technology.

“Indian procurement,” Joshi said, “as per its defense procurement policy, clearly spells out the terms of transfer. According to the policy, whenever a defense equipment has been procured, technology has to be transferred in entirety by the time the last tranche of equipment comes.”

This sharing environment bodes well for both countries, explained Ben Schwartz, senior director for defense and aerospace at the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC). Schwartz said the U.S. is encouraged by the prospect of participating in India’s ongoing aircraft carrier project. The countries established a joint working group in 2015 to work on India’s plans for an indigenously built carrier, the INS Vishal.

A pair of U.S. aircraft makers are entering partnerships with Indian aviation firms in hopes of producing fighter jets on Indian soil, reported Bloomberg News. Boeing is teaming up with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd. to make F/A-18s. Lockheed, meanwhile, plans a joint bid with India’s Tata Group to produce F-21 fighters.

“The fighter offers all have a Make-in-India component,” Schwartz said, “and there’s similar deals in the works for other defense assets.”

Schwartz’s USIBC hosted a July 2019 event in New Delhi on India’s STA-1 status and implications for acquisition of advanced technology. Joshi hopes the new defense trade environment will enhance India’s ability to innovate.

“Collaborative ventures with American R&D would at least give India direct exposure to American best practices,” he said, “which in turn would seep into the Indian institutions, both through technical advancement and learning curve.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.