By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Feb 2015
The United States of America is the largest foreign presence at the Aero India 2015 exhibition in Bengaluru, with 64 US companies --- including the world’s biggest defence contractors --- seeking tie-ups with Indian companies under the “Make in India” initiative.
With both governments keen on driving defence industry together, companies hope to benefit from the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), a body Washington and New Delhi have established to remove obstacles --- such as bureaucratic objections to the release of technology to India.
Senior US officials, briefing the media in Bengaluru, say President Barack Obama’s White House is nurturing defence ties with India so carefully that no Washington bureaucrat below the rank of deputy assistant secretary of state or defence can reject the release of technology to India.
That rank is theoretically equivalent to an Indian additional secretary, but in discretion and responsibility is significantly more powerful.
“All decisions on defence regulatory matters related to India… are going to be raised up to my level at a minimum. The idea is to ensure that every decision is given the right amount of strategic and policy attention”, said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kenneth B Handelman.
Tacitly acknowledging that the US bureaucracy has not entirely understood the importance of the US-India relationship, Handelman explained: “There are dedicated and patriotic American civil servants working in the regulatory system, but sometimes they don’t see every strategic level aspects of every initiative.”
Also briefing the media was Alan Shaffer, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, who said processes were being galvanized. “Time in both our bureaucracies is usually measured in years. In DTTI, time is measured in weeks and months. The progress we are making is truly remarkable.”
During Obama’s Republic Day visit four “pathfinder projects” had been identified for co-development under the DTTI. These include: (a) next-generation Cheel micro-drones; (b) roll-on, roll-off kits (changeable aircraft interiors) for US-supplied C-130J Super Hercules aircraft; (c) a mobile electric power source; and (d) Uniform Integrated Protection Ensemble Increment II, or protective clothing for nuclear, chemical or biologically contaminated battlefields.
The two countries simultaneously created a “working group” for cooperation in two high-tech areas: aircraft carrier technology, and gas turbine engine technology.
Now, acknowledging the limits of DTTI, Schaffer indicated that the high-tech projects faced significant hurdles. “The ask in both aircraft carrier technology and gas turbine development is fairly advanced technology. We have to work through a whole myriad of issues: what technology we can offer, how much it will cost, will the government of India be willing to pay the cost of some of these. Because some of our weapons systems are very expensive. How will we provide something that may be part way --- that may meet India’s needs but not be at full cost. The working groups will have to grind through these issues.”
After several years of silence on this issue, the officials renewed a push from Washington for New Delhi to sign three “foundational agreements” of defence cooperation --- the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA); Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA); and a Logistic Support Agreement (LSA).
The foundational agreements are extremely important. So far, the fact that they have not been signed has not really been an impediment… But there will come a point as our relationship matures… that those agreements are going to become very serious issues in moving forward to the next step, either in a particular project, or in the broader expansion of our defence relationship”, said Handelman.
Underlining the momentum behind DTTI, Shaffer pointed out that the US co-chair of DTTI, Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, had already made three visits to Delhi in the last six months, and would be here again next week.
The US has sponsored a series of workshops with the Defence Research and Development Organisation on futuristic defence topics like: autonomous systems, cognitive systems, and directed energy weapons.
“Out of these workshops come specific proposals that will lead to actual work in co-development and co-production between the two countries”, said Shaffer.
The DTTI was established in 2012, by then Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and his deputy, Ashton Carter (now US Secretary of Defence) as a communication channel to prevent the broader strategic relationship from being stalled by bureaucratic red tape. The DTTI has now been galvanized as a principal motor of defence cooperation.