Sikorsky's naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopter

US is one of the biggest arms supplier to India, having bagged contracts for direct sales worth $17 billion just over the last decade. Both Indian and US officials have privately admitted “disappointment” over the progress made under the DTTI of 2012. The contracts include a deal worth $ 2.1bn for 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters

by Rajat Pandit

NEW DELHI: The much-touted Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) finalised between India and the US six years ago to jointly develop and produce futuristic weapon systems and technologies, as part of their expanding strategic partnership, has failed to deliver any major concrete results till now.

Though the co-production of advanced military helicopters and infantry combat vehicles as well as cooperation in aircraft carrier technologies remain on the table, another big-ticket project to collaborate on fighter jet engines has nosedived. “But a relatively smaller project to co-develop Sealink Advanced Analysis (S2A) systems to track vessels and enhance maritime domain awareness is close to finalisation now,” said an official.

The US remains one of the biggest arms supplier to India, having bagged contracts for direct sales worth $17 billion just over the last decade. Several other deals, including the $2.1 billion one for 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters and the $1 billion acquisition of the American National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II, are also in the pipeline.

But the DTTI’s professed aim to transform the bilateral “buyer-seller” relationship into co-development and production of weapon systems has remained a pipedream, with both Indian and US officials privately admitting “disappointment” with the progress made under the DTTI of 2012.

India was very keen on the jet engine project, having failed to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine despite spending Rs 2,839 crore on it since 1989, but it hit an insurmountable roadblock earlier this year. “The US refused to share some key technologies we wanted,” said an Indian official.

A US official, however, said, “What we offered India was far more than what we have ever offered to any other country.” The stalemate means India’s indigenous Tejas fighters will continue to be powered by General Electric engines bought directly from the US for the foreseeable future.

The Indian Navy, in turn, is interested in the EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch systems) technology, developed by General Atomics, for its proposed second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-II) with CATOBAR (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery) configuration to launch fighters as well as heavier aircraft from its deck.

But the defence ministry is yet to even give initial approval for construction of the 65,000-tonne IAC-II despite the Navy junking its plan for it to have nuclear-propulsion to bring down the overall cost to around Rs 45,000 crore.

Of the first four modest “pathfinder DTTI projects” announced during the Obama-Modi summit in January 2015, India subsequently rejected the Raven mini-drones and “roll-on, roll-off” intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance modules for C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.

The other two, mobile generators or electric hybrid power sources and next-generation protective ensemble (chemical-biological warfare protection gear for soldiers) were finalised but are nowhere near being the “unique and transformative military technologies” that India was looking for under the DTTI.

India is, of course, evaluating the US offer for a tri-lateral venture with Israel to develop futuristic infantry combat vehicles, as also participation in its “future vertical-lift (FVL) aircraft” programme for five different helicopters, as was first reported by TOI. But there is no concrete progress yet.