NEW DELHI — The US and India have finalized agreements on two technology co-development projects in what Pentagon officials hope will be a milestone in military-industrial relations for the Pentagon and its Indian counterparts.
The countries also formalized a new defense agreement Wednesday, one which sets the groundwork for the next decade of military cooperation between the two nations.
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited New Delhi to formally sign the 2015 Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship on behalf of the United States on the final stop of a nine day tour through the Pacific, which included stops in Hawaii, Singapore and Vietnam.
Speaking to reporters, Carter pointed out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Act East policy "converges" nicely with the US rebalance to the Pacific.
During President Barack Obama's visit to India in January, he announced four "pathfinder" programs for military cooperation among the two nations, including two "project arrangements" of co-development on a chemical-biological protective suit and portable field generators.
Pentagon officials announced the finalization of the two project arrangements ahead of the signing of the framework. The programs fall under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), a specialized program launched in 2012 — and brought to fruition by Carter, then deputy defense secretary — to help further military development with India.
"The heart of [DTTI] is to create cooperative technology and industrial relationships which are not just the buyer-seller kind," Carter said. "We obviously have those kind of relationships, but both we and the Indians want to move beyond that."
The two development projects will be conducted by India's Defence Research and Development Organization and Pentagon research labs, with the goal of having a producible project at the end of a two-year period. That could then be put up to bid to industry, and could potentially be produced by India's industrial base.
The agreements are for small money, with the US and India each kicking in $500,000 total over two years on each project. But Carter and his staff say the important thing isn't the size of the projects, as much as the simple fact they are occurring.
"From our perspective, it's really not [about] these two projects," a defense official told reporters. "Now we know we are going to move forward, and that process will lay the strategic foundation for us to do a lot more in the future."
"This is not the future of our strategic cooperation here. It's the proof of concept that once we get some of these projects moving, we will know how to do it, and then we can start putting much bigger things on the table."
As to what those larger projects may be, the official indicated that the US will discuss whatever projects the Indian government wishes to bring up.
Two major programs are already under discussion as another set of pathfinder programs from Obama's visit. The two governments have set up collaboration groups on aircraft carrier technology and fighter jet engines.
A second defense official told reporters that the respective teams have developed terms of reference to begin those discussions and are opening lines of communication.
Any agreement on major programs would be a boost for the industries of both nations. According to the Pentagon, the US and India have conducted $10 billion in weapon sales over the past decade.
"There is a legacy, and historical burden, of bureaucracy in both countries, and it is a constant exercise in stripping that away," he said. "It's just the burden we carry forward from the fact that we were two separated industrial systems for so long during the Cold War. It just takes time to get the two [systems] together."
The officials highlighted the fact the chem-bio suit and generator agreements were announced in January and agreed upon just a few short months later, a fast effort by US standards and something unheard of for India's notoriously slow acquisition system, where projects can languish for years.
That is a credit to the Modi government, the officials said — a contrast to the previous political leadership on the subcontinent.
"The previous government was less proactive on the foreign policy stage, so it was sometimes a little hard to tell exactly where it was going," the first official said. "And we certainly felt that in some of our interactions."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.