IIT Kanpur, Pennsylvania State University Co-host INDUS-X Workshop to Foster India-US Defence Innovation

Foreign Affairs

Kanpur: India and the United States have collaboratively taken a significant step towards enhancing defence excellence and collaboration by convening the INDUS-X (India-United States Defence Acceleration Ecosystem) workshop on August 29, 2023. The event, co-facilitated by IIT Kanpur, Pennsylvania State University, Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), the Ministry of Defence, India; and the US Department of Defence (DoD), was supported by the US-India Business Council (USIBC).

The INDUS-X workshop was conceptualised following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the White House, alongside the creation of the India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem with the US Department of Defence. This inaugural workshop provided a concrete platform for enhancing defence collaboration, bringing forth common challenges, and facilitating mentorship programmes. The event emphasised the foremost practices in Artificial Intelligence and Space innovations, catering to the academia and startup ecosystems of both nations.

The workshop highlighted academia and startups’ contributions to the defence sector, with distinguished representatives from Academic Institutes of National Importance discussing the potential outcomes of such collaborations. Prof Vijay Narayanan from Penn State University initiated the program by elaborating on the need for Academic and Startup Programming Partnerships through INDUS-X.

Prof Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, and Prof Ankush Sharma, Professor-in-Charge, Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre (SIIC), IIT Kanpur, set the stage for the INDUS-X initiative by addressing the importance of collaboration. Dr Nikhil Agarwal, CEO, SIIC & AIIDE-CoE, IIT Kanpur, echoed the Indian perspective on defence collaboration for bilateral programmes. The US counterparts, including Dr Neeli Bendapudi, President of Penn State University and Co-chair of AAU India-US Task Force; and Dr Barbara R. Snyder, President of the Association of American Universities, offered initial remarks on the potential outcomes of INDUS-X.

The INDUS-X workshop aimed to translate cutting-edge defence innovations through startup-academia partnerships, bolstering the startup ecosystem and empowering entrepreneurs. It presented a holistic view of academia-startup roles in defence innovation, aligning with INDUS-X’s goals of enhancing teamwork, fostering innovation, and creating jobs. The workshop highlighted the collaborative force driving defence technology progress and global partnerships, while upholding Indo-Pacific security.

Prof Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, termed INDUS-X as a monumental milestone, sparking innovation and overcoming borders to strengthen global security. He said that this initiative embodies unity and progress, forging an expansive partnership through dynamic collaborative defence efforts. By fostering cooperation, the potential of defence technology is magnified, contributing to a safer future. He added that INDUS-X serves as a testament to the potency of collective vision and action, shaping a future where security knows no boundaries.

Professor Ankush Sharma, Professor-in-charge, Startup, Incubation and Innovation Centre (SIIC), IIT Kanpur, highlighted INDUS-X’s role in uniting academia, startups, and industry for defence innovation. He emphasized the workshop as a model of collaboration, guiding harmonious progress. This collective effort shapes a defence ecosystem that safeguards and advances together. Amid India’s evolving defence landscape, he stressed the importance of seizing partnership opportunities for societal advancement in the face of transformative change. Moreover, he highlighted the significance of great innovation, scaling up innovation efforts, and ushering in a new era of progress.

Dr Neeli Bendapudi, President of the Pennsylvania State University and Co-chair of AAU India-US Task Force, underlined INDUS-X’s importance for defence research, higher education’s role in nation-building and innovation, and the partnership between both democracies. She also congratulated India on Chandrayaan-3’s successful moon landing.

Dr Ajay Kumar, Former Defence Secretary of India and Distinguished Visiting Professor at IIT Kanpur emphasised the need to amend defence sector policies regarding product testing and validation. He highlighted the potential of translating academic innovations into defence applications through startups, along with the significance of initiating training and exchange programmes to advance the objectives of INDUS-X.

Various notable issues came to the forefront during the workshop, including the absence of bilateral collaboration to translate research, challenges in promoting defence technologies, and the need for reciprocal training programmes to connect academic innovations with practical implementations. Dr Bindu Nair, Director of Basic Research, US Department of Defence, outlined forthcoming strategies to facilitate product development through academic partnerships.

Other speakers at the workshop included Ravi Pandey, Head of Technology Transfer, IIT Kanpur, who discussed patent challenges in India and the USA. He advocated policy amendments for defence tech transfer to accelerate product development. Dr Stephen J. Susalka, Chief Executive Officer, Association of University Technology Managers, gave the process flow details in transitioning the innovations from academic labs to products. He also gave insight into some of the best ongoing practices in transferring technologies in the US universities. Dr Stephen highlighted the role of University managers and trained manpower in Technology Transfer Office (TTO) and/or Incubators for supporting the translation of academic Innovations through startups.

Rajinder Bhatia, President and CEO, Bharat Forge Defence and Aerospace, and Pavan Gill, Pacific North Regional Director, National Security Information Network, US Department of Defence highlighted issues in defence industry progression, including obstacles in product validation, testing, and the shift from general defence requirements to specific project needs. They requested government support for policy adjustments to address these challenges.

Representing the MSME and Startup sector from both India and the US, speakers including Aastha Verma, COO, Tardid Technology Pvt Ltd; Dr R. Shivaraman, Co-founder, Big Bang Boom Solutions Pvt Ltd.; Dr Jeffrey Parker, CTO, Advanced Space Inc.; and Dr Christopher Roscoe, CEO, Ten One Aerospace Inc., highlighted the need for INDUS-X programme’s assistance in accessing global markets. They specifically called for the relaxation of defence export restrictions to facilitate international market entry.

Prof Abhishek, Co-founder of EndureAir Systems and Professor at the Aerospace Engineering Department, IIT Kanpur, along with Prof Vijay Narayanan from Pennsylvania State University, jointly moderated the workshop and delivered concluding remarks. They highlighted potential outcomes, including aiding market access for defence startups in the US and India, funding opportunities, policy adjustments, and manufacturing support. The virtual workshop engaged over 500 participants from both countries, encompassing defence departments, startups, and academia. This collaborative effort seeks to inspire progress on a global scale, with both nations focusing on innovative defence strategies during the brainstorming session.

IIT Kanpur’s business incubator SIIC drives defence innovation through the dynamic iDEX and INDUS-X collaborations, manifesting commitment through cutting-edge projects ranging from gun parts inspection to emerging AI tech. Their scope extends to AI-powered solutions and lightweight aircraft systems, while also aligning with the partnership-focused approach of INDUS-X. With a robust startup incubation framework and a penchant for international collaboration, SIIC continues to contribute significantly to the evolution of cutting-edge defence strategies.