There is a Paradigm Change and Incredible Momentum in US-India Defence Relationship: Pentagon Official

Foreign Affairs

Washington: At a roundtable organised by The US-India Strategic and Partnership Forum and CUTS International on the future of the US-India Defence Partnership with a focus on technology collaboration and maritime strategy, Siddharth Iyer, Director for South Asia, Office of the Secretary of Defence (Policy), Department of Defence said that there is a paradigm change and incredible momentum in the US-India defence relationship which is now defined more by the overall trajectory rather than by differences on key issues.

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He said, “Incredible amount of progress (in India-US relationship) has been made not just in the last two years, but even the last 12 months. I think that just sort of underscores the degree to which there’s incredible momentum and the relationship now is defined more by the pace and the sort of overall trajectory rather than by differences and divergences on key issues. The overall paradigm of the relationship I think has changed, particularly from the perspective of the Department of Defence where I think historically security and defence cooperation has traditionally been viewed as an area sort of too sensitive or traditionally lags other areas of cooperation.”

Siddharth Iyer noted that there are three areas of significance in the defence relationship. “The first of course is technology cooperation which is pretty deep…Another area that I think for people who have watched this relationship over the decades where there’s been sort of tremendous upward momentum has been in the area of operational sort of engagements between our militaries. The final area of growth in the partnership has been in the scope and texture of our high-level bilateral engagements,” he said.

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“At least from the outside, it’s apparent that there’s just a very high frequency of engagements between our senior leaders, from the President, Prime Minister, our national security advisors and cabinet officials. It would be hard to find a month in the calendar year when there’s not a high-level exchange, and then probably at least a handful of mid-level exchanges between our governments,” Iyer said.

America’s partnership with India is one of the most consequential relationships it has in the world, Ryan Holliway, Political-Military Officer from the Department of State said. “We see this strategic partnership as a crucial pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific and the 21st century. In a general sense, our exchange of global and strategic issues has never been deeper or more sensitive than it is today, which is a testing out to the close partnership at all levels of our government,” he added.

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Speaking at the event titled, “Future of US-India Defence Partnership” to highlight the strength of the bilateral defence and security partnership between the United States and India, and the growing US- India strategic relationship in the Indo-Pacific region, Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of CUTS International said that the launch of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology or iCET last year has the potential for a quantum leap in the US- India relationship.

“It’s a platform to accelerate our strategic conversions and policy alignment. The initiatives under the ICET are substantially complimenting defence and security as the vital pivot of India’s ties with the US and the success of it was evident during the midterm review held at the level of the Deputy national security advisors in early December of 2023. … The scope has been expanded to cover many other sensitive areas,” he said.

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“This shows and underscores the degree of cooperation and trust in the long way that we have come. I agree that the aim of India-US Technology Corporation is to harness talent, accelerate technology advancements, and broaden the innovation base through co-research and co-development, making a supply chain resilient with an overall intent to strengthen the multifaceted strategic partnership,” he said. “It’s an opportune moment for our relationship,” Mehta said.

The US-India relationship is a defining strategic partnership and an evolving one. In the mid-to-long term, sustaining a strong, innovative and resilient defence industrial base will be paramount to the security and prosperity of the current world order, he said. Mehta mentioned that after analysing the US’s first-ever “National Defence Industrial Strategy”, a modern defence industrial ecosystem is “key to integrated deterrence and” building enduring advantages for US’s national security”.

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Mehta said, “However, this report highlights a few challenges for the US, including critical workforce shortages in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and advanced innovation and manufacturing. Here, a partner or a friend like India which has an abundance of skilled manpower and its youth specialising in STEM-related areas could potentially address this challenge.”

As part of CUTS International 40th Anniversary events happening around the world, this event was the 10th in series. Dr Ngozi Iweala-Okonjo, Director General, World Trade Organization (WTO) at Geneva, Switzerland on 6th April 2023, kicked off the series of the anniversary events. Participants at the high-level roundtable discussion included Siddharth Iyer, Director for South Asia, Office of the Secretary of Defence (Policy), US Department of Defence; Ryan Holloway, Political-Military Officer, US Department of State; Vikram Singh, Senior Advisor, Defence and Aerospace, USISPF; Meaghan Byrne, Director Aerospace and critical emerging technologies, USISPF and representatives from noted and prominent industry like Mahindra Defence, Tata Defence, Lockheed Martin, Boeing among others.

Experts at the roundtable highlighted the three most important areas accelerating this bilateral defence cooperation, namely, technology and innovation cooperation with a roadmap for industrial collaboration, operational engagements, and the scope and texture of bilateral engagements between these two countries. In a mid-to-long term cooperation between these two countries could involve areas which have never been on the table and discussed earlier. The panellists agreed that both sides, intentions are high to take things forward within the Quad framework, develop a joint technological collaboration, and work together on maritime and underwater domains.

Answering the questions towards the close of the roundtable, panellists suggested that the potential areas of collaboration in defence innovation and technology could be in the direction of cooperation on operational priorities, increased public-private engagement, increasing the role of private players including MSMEs in the larger industrial base, more transparency in IPR-related issues and military modernisation by working more on co-producing critical technologies. Furthermore, the immediate need from both sides should be to keep the ongoing momentum going and harvest the benefits from initiatives such as iCET, and INDUS-X among others. Panellists acknowledged that the American government prioritises Indian military modernisation, increasing interoperability, and aligning more with India on producing critical and emerging technologies.