US is pushing for the sale of F/A-18 "Super Hornet" fighter jets for the Indian Navy

by Col B S Nagial (Retd)

India and US conducted an air exercise in the Northeast’s Panangarh, Indian Air Force station. It is a crucial sector under the Indian Army Eastern Command, wherein the country’s strike corps for our adversary is located. This exercise will see the involvement of both transport aircrafts and fighter aircrafts. The Cope India 23, the bilateral exercise between IAF and USAF, aims to enhance mutual understanding between the two air forces and share their best practices. Two air forces will work on air mobility and involve transport aircrafts and special forces assets. This is the first phase of the exercise; subsequently, it will cover Kalaikunda and Agra, the Indian Air Force bases.

In addition to this exercise, India will participate in another multilateral exercise with Greece later this month, where mainly NATO countries will participate. These are the routine exercises that various arms of the Indian Armed Forces undertake yearly with friendly countries.

The India-US defence and security relations have witnessed significant progress in recent years, driven by their shared interests and strategic objectives. The cooperation between the two countries has expanded across various domains, including military exercises, intelligence sharing, defence technology and trade, and collaborative research and development. As the strategic partnership continues to evolve, it is expected to play a crucial role in shaping the regional security dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.

One of the critical aspects of the India-US defence and security relations is their collective visualisation of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Both India and US acknowledge the significance of maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and have conjoined in areas such as anti-piracy operations, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief measures.

India-US relations have strategic and economic shared interests based on democratic values. India aspires to become a $ 5 trillion economy, and self-reliance in defence manufacturing is the key area where the focus has to be laid. India has a liberalised policy of defence manufacturing and established two Defence Industrial Corridors in UP and Tamil Naidu. This can help India to become a crucial partner in the global defence supply chain. Moreover, Buy (Global)-Manufacture in India avenue for sourcing large platforms for overseas to manufacture and sell in India and abroad will further boost the economy.

The US has started supplying defence equipment to India in the past decade. There have been significant American defence companies which have invested in India. India and US defence partnership is anticipated to grow further in the coming days. India has gained from the sophisticated technology supported by the US. A technological gap between India and China needs to be bridged. Indeed, the US can help India in this regard.

Both India and US have initiated actions which indicate the seriousness of defence and security relations. The US Government has recognised India as Major Defence Partner and committed to working toward facilitating technology sharing with India. The US share such technologies with close allies only. Major Defence Partner designation and Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 are unique to India as the US eases higher technology product sales restrictions to India.

The US-India defence partnership has grown by over USD 21 Billion and has tremendous potential to grow further. The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between India and the US have been the driving force of partnership between the two countries. The US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is a mechanism focused on creating new areas of technology cooperation through co-development and co-production in the defence sector.

India is a significant player in the Indo-Pacific Region, which many countries, including the US, have recognised. The US has renamed its oldest and strategically important (US Pacific Command) as Indo-Pacific Command. QUAD, which comprises India, the US, Japan, and Australia, leaders of these countries have resolved to work together closely to advance the shared values and promote a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific Region. During his visit to India in 2021, The US Secretary of Defence, Llyod Austin, reinforced the US’s commitment to a comprehensive and a forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of approach to the Indo-Pacific Region. Considering this region’s potential and new strategic dynamics, such a critical partnership must remain robust.

Technology dominance will be a decisive factor in the forthcoming battles. Technology development to meet our future warfighting capability should focus on a broad-based programme encompassing all defence-related sciences. The strategy should guarantee that we can develop and transform advanced technology into a reasonable and critical military capability considering affordability, timeliness, dual-use, technology base and modular design. This would enable the country’s R&D establishments to focus on specific capability requirements and work out appropriate technologies needed to fulfil these requirements. Identifying critical technologies that are likely to be denied and efforts concentrated on indigenous development of these technologies would be possible. The focus should be on the emerging areas of warfare that have been identified as essential for joint warfighting.

China is making a big bet on disruptive technologies such as AI, advanced robotics, quantum computing, hypersonic systems, new materials and renewable energy to create military dominance. At the same time, India’s developments in military science & technology appear to lag behind in scale, pace, steadiness and content. The help of the US is required the most in the development of military science and technology. Ultimately aim is to amalgamate incongruent technologies into a weapon system.

But the moot question is whether or not the Indian Armed Forces have the technology and wherewithal to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. The answer is yes, and it has been demonstrated repeatedly. But if the question is whether they have adequate technology in the embryonic multi-domain environment as befitting a rising power, the answer is not yet. This aspect needs further elaboration.

Geopolitics changes have brought the world’s two largest democracies together. The Indo-US ties have grown more robust in the past decade. Liberalised defence policy makes India a manufacturing destination for US companies to increase their investment in India. The significant factors contributing toward strengthening Indo-US ties in the military and security sector are a requirement of geostrategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region, safeguarding the national interests and addressing the disrupting global supply chains.

India is focused on implementing reforms in the defence sector-indigenous production and technology absorption, and the US need to embrace technology transfer and co-development in India. This will help India to become an integral part of the global strategic defence market. Further joint exercises between India and the US would enable them to handle contingencies and focus on critical strategic areas. India will get benefitted tremendously from the technology influx as it will create jobs and infrastructure.

The relationship between India and the US is bound to grow robust in the years to come despite the domestic political landscapes in both countries. The urgent requirement is to outline the contours of the relationship on a sustainable basis.