Guwahati: The second in a series of workshops under the Defense News Conclave Project, titled “India-US Collaborations in Defense Industry, Technology, Innovation and Trade”, saw distinguished panelists addressing diverse themes relating to India-U.S. cooperation on these issues.

This Project is being implemented by CUTS International with the support of the U.S. State Department (U.S. Consulate Kolkata), said a statement.

This workshop series aims at creating awareness about the importance of India-­U.S. defense relations, particularly in the context of contemporary developments in the Indo-Pacific region.

The session was moderated by Sandhya Sharma, Editor, Technology Policy and Foreign Policy, ET Prime.

Richard M. Rossow, Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies, observed that India wants to move beyond a buyer-seller relationship in defense, and it wants access to the technologies underpinning defense sales.

He noted that while a lot of equipment sales from the U.S. to India were on the cards, getting U.S. firms to build locally in India remained a challenge.

Rossow stated that the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is an ambitious and unique framework between the two sides, which needs to move faster to ensure the viability of more projects.

He also cautioned about the disastrous effects of potential CAATSA sanctions on India, while advising both sides to have “frank conversations” on areas of disagreement.

He said that the India-U.S. defense relationship was not entirely transactional – while U.S. companies may lose sales due to India’s indigenization drive, which was not the sole driving force for bilateral ties, which had attained a strategic status.

Colonel K.V Kuber, Director, Aerospace and Defense, Ernst and Young remarked that the India-U.S. defense relationship was driven by “mutual interest in commercial and geopolitical areas, which was the basis of trust”.

He mentioned the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries and the DTTI as the cornerstone of this relationship. Noting that the DTTI aims to “transform and transmigrate the buyer-seller relationship into a co-production and co-development relationship”, he pointed to the Air Launched Small Unmanned Systems and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) projects as successful examples.

He noted that the DTTI could not be about only trade, nor about only technology and that the U.S. needed to loosen its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

To move forward, India and the U.S. need to focus discussions on specifics, rather than overall frameworks. Kuber cited the instance of the lease of Predator drones to India as an important development in the right direction.

He noted that the U.S. approach to defense trade needed to shift from being anti-Russia to being pro-industry. Observing that almost 11 Indian states already have an aerospace and defense policy, Kuber stated that India’s defense self-reliance programme was driven by an “Atmanirbharta with Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” approach, driven by the “combined power of hardware, software, firmware and brainware.”

Subimal Bhattacharjee, Independent Consultant on Defense and Cyber Security and Former Country Head, General Dynamics observed that the India-U.S. defense relationship is a “dynamic and evolving one – from a place of mistrust to a place of deep trust”.

He noted that while R&D cooperation under the DTTI had not been very successful so far, a relook could set the ball rolling. Importantly, Subimal observed that by signing the foundational agreements with the U.S., India itself went through an evolutionary process, since accepting these agreements involved tweaking government policies on defense.

He pointed to the scope of cooperation on Artificial Intelligence (AI), both bilaterally as well as within groups like the Quad, which could focus on building trusted systems networks.

In his view, India and the U.S. should collaborate on technology design, development and use, pursue dialogues on critical technology supply chains, including a commonly evolved supply chain monitoring mechanism.

Subimal also suggested the hybrid Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route as an effective way forward in bilateral defense trade. He also emphasized that India’s policy of Atmanirbharta in defense did not mean eliminating all other players entirely – there remained many gaps that could be filled by American technologies.

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