In a recent 2023 US-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting, the deputy assistant to US president Joe Biden, Kurt Campbell talked about more presidential and vice-presidential visits to the Asian region, saying that “one of the most essential algorithms of Asia is the importance of showing up.”
The TPF, which had been on the back burner since the pandemic, resumed in Washington and is designed to resolve trade and investment issues between India and the United States. It consists of five focus groups: Agriculture, investment, innovation and creativity (intellectual property rights), services, and tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Experts said a lot of planning by the US government for 2023, including the top leaders’ visit to the region will remain focused on India and Japan.
US President Joe Biden will likely have his calendar marked for the Group of Seven summits in Hiroshima, Japan, and the Quad summit in Australia, both in May, along with the G-20 summit in New Delhi in September. Biden will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco in November for which the preparation with India is going to start. According to US officials, the idea is to put India at the centre of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Defence cooperation will remain a key focus area in US-India bilateral relations. The recent calls between US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark A Miley and his Indian counterpart, General Anil Chauhan, Chief of the Indian Defence Force, underscore the military alignment amidst increased border tensions between India and China. There were fresh clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector on December 9. China’s aggressive border strategy against India now forms part of all discussions between the US and India.
Defence industrial cooperation
The India-US discussion is now mostly centred around defence talks as Campbell, who is also coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said “the U.S. is ready to assist India in moving away from Russia’s dependence (on defence).”
The US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) remains the cornerstone of the bilateral defence cooperation in its entirety. While DTTI is the overarching entity for defence cooperation, Defense Technology and Trade Initiative Industry Collaboration Forum (DICF) aims to deepen industrial cooperation between the US and India. Through the DICF, both countries intend to speed up their military projects by identifying opportunities to jointly research, develop, and produce warfighting capabilities.
This cooperation is about exploring advanced capabilities as the DICF focuses on securing supply chains in critical sectors such as semiconductors and partnering for innovation in emerging domains, such as artificial intelligence and space.
In fact, the scope of industrial defence cooperation was the main agenda when Jesse Salazar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy met with his Indian counterpart, Anurag Bajpai, Joint Secretary (Defence Industries) under the DICF.
India has purchased complex defence equipment and systems from the United States which has benefitted the country. Both countries further decided to leverage the US-India Defense Framework Agreement under the 2+2 dialogue to realise the full potential of the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.
The ministerial-level talks aimed to rationalise the complex acquisition process which has now morphed into a comprehensive Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between the United States and India. One of the significant steps is the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). It led to maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between the Navies at the joint-service and service-to-service levels through the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).
India’s defence relationship with the US
How is the US-India relationship faring in the military-industrial domain? Boeing has been a key player in supplying strategic military platforms, including the P-8I for critical intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance.
Salil Gupte, president, Boeing India further outlines his strategic roadmap for India: “The defence relationship between India and the US, the world’s largest and oldest democracies, is one that is steadily growing. The two countries have made landmark progress to bolster strategic and defence ties, from ‘Major Defence Partner’ to holding 2+2 dialogues and bilateral and multilateral security dialogues and military exercises.”
But critics also point out that the finer aspect of US-India defence cooperation rests on strategic military exercises like the Quad among others. What remains to be seen is the joint development and cooperation in the field of advanced military technologies, which involve fighter jet and aero-engine manufacturing in India.
When asked about such possibilities, Gupte lists out the number of collaborations with India in the strategic and tactical military domain, saying the cooperation in the area of defence between the two governments has grown considerably. “We’ve seen a rise in the number of joint military exercises, technology transfers, collaboration through co-production, and DTTI is sustaining dialogue between Indian and U.S. industry,” he adds.
He also points out that DTTI is sustaining dialogue between the Indian and US industries. Under the broad framework of the DTTI, the Initiative on Critical & Emerging Technologies (iCET) such as semiconductors, artificial intelligence and 5G are identified as priority sectors.
Gupte also highlights Boeing’s investment in India in building an industrial ecosystem. “We have over 300 supplier partners here in India ourselves, including over 70 MSMEs – this industrial collaboration benefits both nations. Our JV with Tata here builds Apache helicopter fuselages for the entire world, including both the US Army and Indian Army. These are progressive developments that enable aerospace and defence companies such as Boeing to contribute even more towards the capability enhancement of the Indian armed forces.”
The agenda for the upcoming 2+2 (foreign and defence ministers of India and the US) dialogue is under discussion.
Besides defence, the agenda will broadly focus on the bilateral trade problems, and repackaging of specific areas such as labour, environment, and good regulatory practices. Also, India would be expecting the US to reconsider the reauthorization of the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme and its benefits to India.