US-India Defence Cooperation - Moving Beyond Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)

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Vol 12 Issue 4. Sep - Oct 2018
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Events of the recent past have brought about an opportunity for the US and India to forge a closer defence relationship
Col Michael Padgett (Retd), US Army and Brig Arvind Thakur (Retd)
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the world moves toward a multipolar order and India plays a balancing act to ensure that its strategic interests are protected, events of the recent past have brought about an opportunity for the US and India to forge a closer defence relationship,  Col Michael Padgett (Retd), US Army and  Brig Arvind Thakur ( Retd) place their thoughts together to outline the current status and potential future course and opportunities for both countries

India-U.S. bilateral relations have developed into a  ‘global strategic partnership’ based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues. The Cold War era saw the US frowning on India’s closeness with the then USSR. Even the collapse of the erstwhile USSR did not help much as India conducted nuclear explosions in 1998. The nuclear explosions created friction with the Clinton Administration, resulting in US sanctions of India. It was only in 2005 when George Bush and Manmohan Singh signed the landmark Indo – US Nuclear deal that relations started improving between the two countries.

At present India finds itself deeply drawn into a geo-political balance of power matrix particularly in the Indo – Pacific region where the world’s two leading economic and military powers viz. the US and China, are vying for influence. The Wuhan Summit in April 2018 between PM Modi and President Xi did succeed in identifying the potential hazards of the long standing border dispute and thawed the chill between the two countriesand both resolved to move ahead in a manner that does not destabilize the region and current economic progress of both nations. However, while keeping the Chinese positively engaged, India also needs to look beyond and forge strong bonds with nations that share India’s interests which include maintaining territorial integrity, economic prosperity, freedom of navigation in open seas, eradication of terrorism and nondiscriminatory trade practices. The United States is one nation that has been at the fore front of these interests and it is quite in India’s interests further strengthen the partnership with the US for its own strategic interests.

The United States has been articulating strong support for India’s peaceful emergence as a strong economic and military power, and as a crucial component of Asian security and stability. The fact that Pakistan has been stubbornly playing a double game by supporting terror organizations inimical to US and India’s interests has also been a cause for India and the US to forge stronger ties.

Recentlythere has been a crescendo of voices advocating the need to expand defence ties between the United States and India and the potential benefits that are likely to accrue because of this relationship. The detail of the new relationship is still an unanswered question and a work in progress.Before proposing a new defence relationship, a review of the current one serves as a good starting point.

Current Defence Ties

In August 2016, the United States and India signed a historic agreement- the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which allows for exchange of logistics support, supplies and services between the two countries’ armed forces. This includes food, water, fuel, spare parts, repair, transportation, communication and medical services.The agreement, however, does not allow for basing of US troops on Indian soil.

Over the past four years, India has purchased $4.4 billion in military equipment from the United States. India currently operates the P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft and has purchased Apache helicopters scheduled for delivery in 2019. Other US major systems purchased by India are the C-17 transport aircraft, C-130 Hercules aircraft and SH-3 anti-submarine warfare helicopters. India’s minister of defense finalized an order with Boeing in 2015 for the production, training and support of 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Deliveries will begin in 2019. Two ultra-light M777A2 howitzers were delivered for trials in India. It is also likely to buy 245 Stinger missiles for fitment onto AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.

The then US President, Barack Obama issued a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the USPresident’s January 2015 visit to India. The joint statement cited six ‘pathfinder efforts’ as the best areas for defence cooperation. They were the product of a previous Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which was set up in July 2012 by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The cornerstone for the bilateral effort was the DTTI and the India Rapid Reaction Cell, which was established at the Pentagon in January 2015.

The six pathfinder efforts are divided into two parts, four project proposals and two pathfinder initiatives.The four project proposals are:

-      Next-generation Cheel (Raven) mini-unmanned aerial vehicles,

-      Roll-on/roll-off kits for C-130 aircraft,

-      Mobile electric hybrid power sources and

-      Next-generation protective ensemble.

The two pathfinder initiatives are now joint working groups: Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation and Jet Engine Technology.

The DTTI and Rapid Reaction Cell are unique. The Office of the Secretary of Defense established the cell to promote an expansion of the defense relationship between India and the United States. No other country has similar organizations within the Office of the Secretary of Defencein Pentagon.

The two nations also attempted to establish an Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program Memorandum of Agreement, which never came to pass. India has recently indicated strong interest in completing the agreement. The US Army Research, Development and Engineering Center has wisely allocated a scientist to the US Embassy, New Delhi to foster basic and applied research collaboration with scientists within India’s defenceestablishment.

The Way Forward

With at least part of the current defence relationship defined above, the question now is that what are the areas that the new defence relationshipshould  expand to ? What kind of a new defence relationship will result in real and equal benefits to both countries?

The United States and India should endorse a residual US military presence in Afghanistan over the long term, if such a presence is acceptable to the government of Afghanistan. This is in the security interests of both countries.The two countries should also ensure regular meetings among the so-called Quad states and periodically invite participation from other like-minded Asian nations such as South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

In a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on 18 Oct 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined more in-depth requirements and even named some specifics that applied to the region. He called for the United States and India to expand their strategic partnership. He said the US wants to help strengthen India’s military capabilities and improve security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically with Japan and Australia. Renaming of PACOM as INDOPACOM is not without significance and goes beyond symbolism.Significantly, India, the US and Japan have announced Exercise Malabar for October in the Bay of Bengal, further strengthening mutual military ties and to refine cooperation and interoperability in the face of the developing strength and activity of China in the Indian Ocean. 


The recently concluded 2 plus 2 dialogue in New Delhi on 06 September 2018, which will be an annual feature hereafter, bodes well for both countries. The US has reaffirmed India as a Strategic Defence Partner. America and India signed a new path breaking agreement on COMCAST (Communication Compatibility and Security Arrangement) and negotiated an Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defense industry cooperation and collaboration. It also emphasized greater cooperation on terrorism and intelligence sharing while asking Pakistan to stop abetting terror from the territory under its control. It did not specifically mention two ticklish issues of Russian weapons and Iranian oil, both so essential for India’s security and energy needs. Outside the joint statement, the US indicated its understanding of India’s requirement to continue to receive support from Russia. The US appeared to agree not to impose the provisions of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Washington has also not yet taken any firm steps to restrict India from pursuing its energy and economic requirements from Iran. Chahbahar port in Iran is essential not only for India’s trade but also to help Afghanistan in an Afghan led, Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process. Shahid Beheshti (Phase I of the Chahbahar Port, Iran) became operational on 03 December 2017.

Are there strategic advantages for the United States for a much closer defence relationship with India and vice versa? Should the USopen up access to its latest weapon systems, advocating co-production programs and/or begin implementation on an ISA that would support closer defence industry cooperation and collaboration? To do so would support Mr. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

What joint program development would be most beneficial to each country? Should the United States and India initiate joint research-and-development efforts to improve defense capabilities? How would US forces benefit from opening up their significant lead in most defence technologies and research efforts?

The unique, dedicated organization, the India Rapid Reaction Cell, is in place within the Office of the Secretary of Defence to facilitate expansion of the defense relationship between the Pentagon and India, empowered by the DTTI and augmented by the efforts of the US Embassy, New Delhi. These primary organizations can thrust the two nations together in a neverbeforeexperienced, high quality relationship of defence collaboration.

What is needed now is support from high level officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defence to remove the obstacles preventing more rapid progress in armaments cooperation. Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of Defence must do its part by removing bureaucratic obstacles that prevent progress in armaments cooperation.

There should also be a renewed effort to complete the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Programme Memorandum of Agreement. An expansion of collaborative efforts should include more high payoff projects/scientific exchanges that benefit the US and Indian defence communities.

So, what could be some additional beneficial high payoff projects between the United States and India?

The office of the Secretary of Defense should seek recommendations from the embedded scientists within the US Embassy, New Delhi for high payoff collaborative projects within the basic and applied research communities. This would require such organizations as  the US Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center(ARDEC), the Office of Naval Research, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to seek out, jointly work with and support the ideas proposed by the USEmbassy. Another possibility would be placing several Indian scientists within US Cyber Command. Doing so would help both countries identify and develop joint strategies to counter common threats to each country’s national security and facilitate an allied cyber-protection protocol allowing for maximum information exchange.Scientists can also be exchanged within the information technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing fields.

Further, a combined mine warfare and deep ocean surveillance team could be formed with members from each country, to pursue mutually beneficial deterrence of threats. In that vein, collaborative efforts based on a littoral combat ship, with its shallow draft and high speed could be a great addition to the protection of the Indian Ocean coastline.

In the air domain, US should consider offering the F-16 or F-35 for the next generation of Indian fighter aircraft. On 06 April, India issued a global RFI for 110 fighter aircraft which would support the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

It’s also notable that India’s long-term initiative to replace its minesweepers with minesweepers acquired from abroad ended recently due to an impasse. Lockheed Martin also produces minesweepers which could satisfy Indian Navy’s long-term needs. India can look at this possibility.

There are also opportunities to collaborate on autonomous systems and intelligence sharing agreements that can assist India in detection of terrorist threats.

The bottom line is that now is the time for aggressive actions to increase collaborative defence efforts. Never have India and the United States found their interests more closely aligned, and we must move forward on a host of collaborative defence projects as quickly as we can.

It is likely that some would take exception to the benefit to both countries on expansion of defence collaboration. What is needed is a direction as to how and in what areas that collaborative effort should embark. India needs to balance its relations with the leading world powers without getting into a close embrace with one at the cost of another.

Military Affairs