WASHINGTON and NEW DELHI — The military relationship between India and the US is poised to grow over the coming year, with military exercises expanding as a number of technology transfer programs enter a higher into a next level.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Dec. 10, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar pledged that the next year will see the relationship continue to expand, including India's return to the Red Flag military exercise, its first participation in eight years.
"The pace is picking up. We've done so much more in the last year, probably than we've done in the 10 years before that," Carter said. "And I'm guessing in the — that in the next 10 months, we will do yet again more than we've done in the last year."
That includes taking technology transfer programs from agreement into application.
The core of the technology relationship is the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), a specialized program launched in 2012 — brought to fruition by Carter, then deputy defense secretary — to develop those ties.
Parrikar said the two nations are "doing more than walk the walk" on technology transfer, saying the DTTI "will definitely result in a great deal of things coming out in the next six, seven" months.
"The objectives are clear. We are already concluded on two of the items. There were six on the [plan]. Two more are in the final stages. But many more are coming," Parrikar said. "And I think this initiative with a timeline of six months, we will see so many of defense initiative technology transfers [and soon] USS companies setting up production facilities in India."
Parrikar's visit included discussion on two key technologies India is seeking: engine technology for its proposed homegrown advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), as well as an electro-magnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) for the proposed indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vishal.
While the AMCA is still on the drawing board, availability of a higher thrust advanced engine would kick-start the program. India plans to build medium combat aircraft similar to the Dassault Rafale, which it is buying from France, said a senior scientist of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is developing AMCA.
The US has already offered India an EMALS for the deck of its proposed homegrown carrier, capable of launching fifth generation fighter aircraft and airborne early warning aircraft.
India, Russia and China operate carriers using the less advanced short take-off launch system. With an EMALS-equipped launch system, India's naval strike fighters would encounter less strain on their airframes and be able to conduct sorties faster.
This is not the first time the two sides have discussed these two technologies; there have been three previous meetings on the jet engine technology and four on the EMALS, a MoD source said.
During a June visit to New Delhi, Carter announced the finalization of agreements to co-produce two new technologies: a chemical-biological protective suit and portable field generators. The agreements are not costly, for small money, with the US and India each kicking in $500,000 total over two years on each project.
At the time, analysts praised the agreements, less for the size and more because for the fact they represented movement between the two nations on technology co-production.
However, Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based defense analyst, was skeptical expressed skepticism that joint cooperation in high-tech projects between India and US can take off in the near future.
"It is too early to expect co-development and co-production of advanced weapons systems, and the two countries will have to begin with low-end weapon technologies to learn how the DTTI will work on the ground," Mehta said.
And small technology programs are not enough to advance US interests in the region, according to Ashley Tellis, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"Enabling New Delhi to sustain a competitive operational advantage over Islamabad and Beijing in military terms should therefore become the new functional objective of U.S.-Indian defense cooperation," Tellis wrote in a Dec. 10 analysis posted on Carnegie's website. "This aim comports with larger U.S. grand strategy and would breathe new life into and offer new direction for security cooperation more generally."