F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet taking-off from the deck of the US Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, during an exercise on eastern Mediterranean Sea on May 23, 2022

Among other issues, the Senate has identified intelligence collection capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, 5G, fourth and fifth generation aircraft, and joint research and development, as areas for cooperation with India

WASHINGTON: In yet another signal of Capitol Hill’s political commitment to the India-United States (US) strategic relationship, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), in its version of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), has asked Pentagon to step up its engagement with India on issues of “emerging technologies, readiness and logistics” within 90 days of the passage of the legislation.

Among other issues, the Senate version of NDAA has identified intelligence collection capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 5G, fourth and fifth generation aircraft, and joint research and development (R&D), as areas for cooperation with India. It has also asked the secretary of defence to submit a report on the issue to the appropriate committees in the Senate and House of Representatives within 180 days.

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which has piloted the legislation, has proposed an $847 billion budget for national defence in 2023.

In their comments on the act and the challenges faced by the US, the chair of the committee, Democrat Jack Reed highlighted the emergence of China as America’s most “consequential strategic competitor”, while ranking member of the committee, Republican Jim Inhofe, spoke of the Chinese Communist Party “accelerating the already historic modernisation of its military”.


The House passed its own version of the NDAA last week, incorporating an amendment that advocated for a sanctions waiver for India for its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia - an acquisition that could trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The executive has the authority to give the waiver, but the passage of the amendment, proposed by Congressman Ro Khanna, with 330 votes is seen as a political signal to the administration.

In the Senate, as a part of a distinct process, the language on India has now been incorporated as a part of the base text. It will go through its own process of amendments and floor vote. And then the Senate and House versions will be reconciled in conference.

If the House amendment explicitly refers to the current threats faced by India, including from China, and speaks of the need to aid India’s diversification away from Russia, the Senate version of NDAA focuses on core policy areas for the future where both India and the US are seeking to deepen collaboration. It also lays out guidelines for the executive to follow.


In Section 1246, titled “enhancing major defence partnership with India”, the proposed act says that within 90 days of its passage, the secretary of defence shall direct “appropriate personnel” within the department of defence (DOD) to “seek to engage their counterparts” in the ministry of defence (MOD) for the “purpose of expanding cooperation on emerging technologies, logistics and readiness”.

It then goes out to list the issues that DOD personnel, “at the minimum”, must engage with India on. These include intelligence collection capabilities, UAVs, fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft, depot level maintenance, joint R&D, 5G and Open Radio Access Network Technologies (ORAN), cyber, cold weather capabilities, and any other matter that the secretary sees as relevant.

Among these issues, 5G and ORAN have emerged as a key pillar of India-US cooperation both within the bilateral format and under Quad as both countries seek to prevent Chinese dominance in the sector and come up with an alternative. Cold weather capabilities assume significance at a time when India is locked into a military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. Cyber remains a growing area of convergence, while there is increased bilateral discussion on UAVs especially with American defence companies. And the emphasis on joint R&D is seen as an acknowledgment of the scientific talent that India can bring to the table as well as a realisation that the US has to be more open to technology-sharing, a key issue that has prevented the further deepening of ties.

The Follow-Up

The proposed act then says that the secretary, within six months, must brief the Senate and House committees and provide an “assessment of the feasibility and advisability” of expanding cooperation with MOD on areas listed above, as well as describe opportunities to expand cooperation in other areas.

It also asks the secretary to describe “challenges, including agreements, authorities and resourcing” that are needed to expand cooperation. The secretary has to also brief the committees on security considerations to ensure the protection of R&D, intellectual property and US equipment.

The proposed law also asks the secretary to identify opportunities for academia and private sector to participate in expanded cooperation with MOD, a provision that can aid India’s effort to woo foreign capital in the defence domain to “Make in India”.