In response to Indian defense leaders' requests for access to U.S. technology and equipment, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) announced an initiative "to streamline our bureaucratic processes and make our defense trade more simple." Panetta met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi, India, on June 5. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / U.S. Department of Defense)
NEW DELHI — As U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has traveled around the Asia-Pacific over the last week, defense leaders in the region have made it clear they want more access to U.S. technology and equipment.
Securing that technology has not been easy as export restrictions and other red tape have delayed or prevented these sales and the passing along of intellectual know-how.
“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare to deal with this stuff,” Panetta said during a June 6 press conference.
Now the Pentagon is taking a new approach to speed up the process of these types of requests by foreign governments.
“We are working to try to get changes in the export control act to try to eliminate some of the barriers that are there, to loosen up on some of the bureaucracy that’s involved with regards to those laws,” he said.
In India, Panetta announced he has put Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in charge of “an effort at the Pentagon to engage with Indian leaders on a new initiative to streamline our bureaucratic processes and make our defense trade more simple, more responsive, and more effective.
“[T]o realize the full potential of defense trade relations, we need to cut through the bureaucratic red tape on both sides,” Panetta said during a June 6 speech sponsored by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
DoD wants to broaden its military relationship with India and “transition our defense trade beyond the ‘buyer-seller’ relationship to substantial co-production and, eventually, high-technology joint research and development,” he said.
Earlier this year, India announced it would purchase French fighter jets over U.S.-built aircraft and other contenders. The French guaranteed full technology transfer as part of the sale.
Asked if the result of those sales prompted the push to offer more technology to partners, Panetta said he looks at cases such as the Indian fighter contract pragmatically: You win some and you lose some.
“I am absolutely convinced that we have the finest technology and that we have cutting-edge stuff that’s out there and that we have very reliable and proven weapons, planes and obviously other technologies that are available,” he said during the press conference. “I think we have a very good product to sell.”
But as the number of defense contracts shrink for many governments in the coming years due to global budget pressures, countries might go with the lowest bidder, which oftentimes is not the U.S. product, since a wealth of other items, such as training, and spare parts, are included in most American bids.
As for India, which has purchased Lockheed Martin C-130Js and Boeing C-17s in recent rears, Panetta believes U.S. weapons and equipment will fare well as New Delhi modernizes its military.
“It’s pretty clear to me that [India] knows that when you look at the broad range of potential purchases that they could make, we’ve got a hell of a lot more to offer than others and that’s what gives me confidence that we’re going to be not only competitive, we’re going to do well,” Panetta said.
The U.S. has sold more than $8 billion in defense articles to India over the past decade.
Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told the U.S. side that India is interested in setting up joint development projects in weapons and equipment so that technology is ultimately transferred to India to help develop its own defense industry.
“During the discussion of the defense trade, Mr. Antony emphasized that the priority for India is to move beyond the buyer-seller transactions and to focus on transfer of technologies and partnerships to build indigenous capabilities,” said an Indian Defence Ministry statement.
Boding well for countries like India and Vietnam is that the new U.S. military strategy, released in January, favors building the defense capabilities of other nations. This has been one of the common themes emphasized by Panetta during his nine-day trip across the region.
Taking this approach, Panetta believes, will help convince countries that the United States “is truly interested in developing their capabilities and not just simply going in and telling them what to do, or trying overwhelm them with power.”
“The real challenge is to convince them that that is what our intentions are all about,” he said. “I think we are making good progress on getting that point across.”
India is the only country mentioned by name in the Pentagon’s new Pacific-heavy strategy. The United States views India as a key player in the region, which has seen rapid military growth by China.
The Pentagon wants to “deepen our defense and security cooperation” and develop the capabilities of India, Panetta said. It also wants to keep broadening the scope of military exercises with India.
Panetta discussed ways to broaden the U.S.-India defense relationship during a June 6 meeting with Antony, and Vietnam is also interested in broadening its military relationship with the U.S.
“[T]hey clearly are interested in obviously some of our technologies and the ability to have our ships visit their ports,” Panetta said. “They’re also interested in exchanges with regards to the ability to work together, provide advice and assistance and to help them improve their capabilities.”