The consequences of DTTI fizzing out would not be adverse to India, but the great opportunity to realise the full potential of India-US defence cooperation would be lost.
The US-India defence cooperation under the Barak Obama and Donald Trump administrations including the recent 2+2 dialogue have laid the basic foundations of the India-US defence partnership. While a deluge of abbreviations like BECA, COMCASA & LEMOA have consequently highlighted the upward trajectory of the relationship, the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) stands out as an exception. The DTTI has failed to meet its objectives of sharing defence technologies and creating partnerships across industries for co-production and co-development. Will the trajectory change after Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president?
Created in 2012, under the Obama administration and after persistent efforts of the then US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, the initiative aims to enhance cooperation between the two democracies in the defence production and trade sectors by overcoming impediments due to “unique national bureaucratic structures, acquisition models, and budget processes,” that is by cutting down, or at the very least, reducing red tape. The primary way this is to be achieved under DTTI is through bilateral dialogues and engagements between senior-level representatives from India and the US. The Secretary (Defence Production) in the Indian Ministry of Defence, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment in the US Department of Defense have, thus, been designated to lead the efforts of the DTTI Group, which is to meet every six months. The most recent of these meetings took place on 15 September 2020 and was the 10th congregation of the Group.
Additionally, several sub-groups have been setup to facilitate routine and specialised processes. These include the DTTI Interagency Task Force that oversees DTTI’s day-to-day efforts, the DTTI Industry Collaboration Forum that intends to develop and sustain dialogue between Indian and US defence industries on technological and industrial cooperation, and four Service-led Joint Working Groups, namely Land Systems, Naval Systems, Air Systems, and Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation.
Early ‘pathfinder’ projects identified under DTTI, nevertheless, have failed to take flight and subsequently been shelved. These projects including next-generation Raven Mini UAVs that was rejected by the Indian Army for being low-tech, roll-on and roll-off kits for C-130 transport aircraft, mobile electric hybrid power source systems, and protector kits against chemical, bio, and nuclear fallout. Collaboration on jet engine technology, which was to be used on future indigenous fighter aircrafts, was also suspended due to US’s reluctance to transfer technology and export controls. Instead, a fighter jet programme was offered to India for purchase, wherein training and sustainment for the entire lifecycle was offered along with the aircraft. This approach, of using DTTI “as a venue for fast-tracking sole-source contracts on major defence articles” instead of collaboration through transfer of technology, has been a source of frustration for India.
DTTI in itself though is just a mechanism for persistent and comprehensive two-sided discussions. However, in conjunction with the host of defence agreements and special statuses that now define the India-US defence relationship, its significance and potential have increased substantially. With the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in September 2018, and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) signed in October 2020, the paperwork required to ensure complete synergy and interoperability between the Indian and US military is complete.
To add to this, an India Rapid Reaction Cell was set up by the Pentagon in September 2015 “to push forward DTTI proposals through the US national-security bureaucracy.” Under the newly gained momentum, this cell can be re-energised. Further, India was recognised as a Major Defence Partner (MDP) of the US in June 2016, a designation that is unique to India and has since been codified in US law; and in August 2018 was granted the status of Strategic Trade Authority Tier 1 (STA-1) that allowed advanced, dual-use technology products to be exported to India by US companies. These, in effect, have elevated India’s standing to a level equal to that of the United States’ closest allies and NATO partners.
With the foundation having been laid, progress up till now, that had been limited to issuing Statements of Intent, and releasing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the identification and development of projects, should be sped up. Near, medium, and long-term projects have reportedly already been identified, though they are yet to leave the first stage of the process. Near-term projects identified are — air-launched Small Unmanned Systems, Light Weight Small Arms Technology, and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance (ISTAR). Medium-term projects are — Maritime Domain Awareness Solution, and Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality for Aircraft Maintenance (VAMRAM). And the two long term projects are — Terrain Shaping Obstacle, and Counter-UAS, Rocket, Artillery & Mortar (CURAM) system for the Indian Army.
These projects should now be given a much-needed boost, especially in the wake of the new Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 being unveiled. Sections 127 and 128 of DAP 2020 talk about the inclusion of products/equipment co-developed and co-produced between India and a foreign country. Developments taking place under DTTI fall perfectly in these categories. At the same time, it should be made sure that projects agreed upon under the initiative are viable and fit into India’s acquisition plans. This is particularly important in the current scenario where India is in a ‘technical recession,’ and deployments along the LOC, and the LAC have become more demanding.
Moreover, the key intentions of DTTI, which are — a shared commitment to defence trade, elimination of bureaucratic obstacles, promotion of a collaborative technology exchange, strengthening of cooperative research, and enablement of co-production and co-development of defence systems for sustainment and modernisation of the military — should continuously be kept in mind and reinforced. The consequences of DTTI fizzing out would not be adverse to India, but the great opportunity to realise the full potential of India-US defence cooperation would be lost.
In the short term, to improve upon the defence partnership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President-elect Joe Biden will need to continue navigating a few challenges. Any future defence co-production and R&D will require significant changes to India’s defence industrial ecosystem and procurement policies. Also, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and India’s continuing dependence Russia for armaments and technologies which the US and most western democracies are unable to share will continue to be a challenge.
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Javin was Research Assistant with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. His work focuses on military national and international security and Indian foreign and defence policy.Read More +