WASHINGTON -- As a sign of tightening bonds between the US and Indian militaries, the Indian defense minister this week will sit down with the top defense technology minds from both inside and outside the Pentagon.
Manohar Parrikar is in the US for a three day visit, starting with Monday's meeting with his US counterpart, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and in comments Monday made it clear he intends to come away from his visit having increased ties between the US defense industry and that of his home country.
On Tuesday, Parrikar will have a sit down with top US industrial companies, and in comments to the press Monday, the minister was not shy about his goal to "encourage" future tie-ups between US and Indian defense firms.
"I wish to invite US industry, including the defense industry, to be part of this new journey of hope and transformation in India," the minister said.
Tuesday's meeting is organized by the US-India Business Council, part of the US Chamber of Commerce. Ben Schwartz, the Council's Director for Defense and Aerospace, told Defense News that 20-25 companies will be attending, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Textron.
Parrikar likely won’t need a hard sell, with US firms having eyed a greater share of the Indian market for most of the past 15 years. But after continuous delays on a number of high-profile military industrial projects, including for the right to provide India with a new fleet of high-end fighter aircraft, there is hope that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to finally push through new defense agreements.
"I think the Modi government is taking some very positive steps to promote more co-development and co-production in the defense sector," Schwartz said. "There really is forward momentum at the political level. What remains to be done is working things out more at the level that occurs at the companies, and the lower level people at the Indian government in the acquisition system."
Schwartz points to concerns from US companies about how offsets are done in India, both due to Indian officials who are disincentivized to push programs forward and because of long-standing rules about how much work must be done inside India for new programs.But he believes moves from the Modi government have made it easier than ever for US firms to do work in India.
"Arguably the most significant policy shift of the Modi government has been opening up the defense sector to private industry," Schwartz said. "That was pretty substantial."
In addition to industry, Parrikar met with the leadership of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) group, as well as visit the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Parrikar will also US Cyber Command, Air Combat Command (ACC) and the 480
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.
DIUx and DARPA provide two of the pillars for US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s innovation initiative, and both represent ways for non-traditional suppliers to enter the Pentagon system. The visit to ACC is interesting, as India is currently considering procurement of either the Lockheed Martin F-16V or Boeing F/A-18 fighter designs.
Speaking after that meeting, Carter said of Parrikar, "he’s an innovator. He’s a great partner and a true friend," and reiterated his belief that the US-India relationship is "destined to be one of the defining partnerships of the 21
Carter and Parrikar announced several incremental steps forward, but had no major news to share on any key defense technology initiatives, such as the sharing of jet-engine or aircraft carrier technology.
They did, however, emphasize the importance of India being named a Major Defense Partner in June, with Carter calling it an "enormous change."
"Across the board of what we do, whether they are co-production, co-development, whether they are exercises and the kinds of things that we do operationally together, in all of those respects, some of the barriers that were erected in the past when we didn’t interact so much, all those are being knocked down," Carter said.
Parrikar also announced that the two sides had formally signed a new logistics agreement, which Washington has been pushing Delhi to sign for the past decade. The two sides had announced they had reached an agreement in principal during an April visit from Carter to India.
Part of the holdup with that agreement had been over concerns in India it would allow the US to set up a base on Indian soil, something Parrikar waved off as a concern.
"It doesn’t have anything to do with setting up of base. It’s basically logistics support to each other’s fleet," Parrikar said.
This story was updated with a new comment from Schwartz
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.