Upward trajectory of US-India Strategic Partnership, says renowned defence and nuclear expert Vivek Lall

With this agreement in place, the two countries can share high-end military technology, geospatial maps and classified satellite data between their militaries.

Upward trajectory of US-India Strategic Partnership, says renowned defence and nuclear expert Vivek Lall
Dr. Vivek Lall, Chief Executive for the General Atomics Global Corporation. (Photo Credits: Lall, Vivek-HR.jpg)

In a significant move, last October, India and the US had inked the landmark defence pact — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) BECA. With this agreement in place, the two countries can share high-end military technology, geospatial maps and classified satellite data between their militaries.

The BECA gives a new dimension to the Indo-US relationship and it allows India to use the US geospatial maps. These will help in increasing the accuracy of weapons, including automated hardware systems and cruise-ballistic missiles. And also serve as the basis for India’s planned purchase of unmanned aerial aircraft (UAVs) from the US based General Atomics. India has requested for 10+10+10=30 of these drones for the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

India has also expressed interest in Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) capabilities for its next generation aircraft carrier.

GA ASI SeaGuardian

The US based company has a lot to offer in other sectors too including Space & world’s largest fusion experiment.

The company will be present at the Aero-India in Hall B, Stand B3.7A.

During his recent visit to India, Dr Vivek Lall, Chief Executive, General Atomics Global Corporation, talked with Huma Siddiqui about various programmes of the company and shared updates.

Following are excerpts:

General Atomics is a world leader in diverse technologies in energy and defence – please elaborate on the company’s technologies globally

General Atomics (GA) is a diversified technologies and Defense Company and its affiliated companies operate on five continents. They include GA Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a global leader in medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

GA-ASI produces a family of UAS that provide multi-domain intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) products using electro-optical, radar and signals intelligence sensors leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). The company’s Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) produces electromagnetic aircraft launch and recovery systems for the US Navy, satellite surveillance, electromagnetic rail gun, high-power laser, hypervelocity projectile, and power conversion systems.

GA is the principal private sector participant in thermonuclear fusion research through its internationally recognized DIII-D and inertial confinement programs for the US Department of Energy. The company has developed the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Supercomputer Center and has constructed more than 60 TRIGA nuclear research reactors in 24 countries. And is a leader in development of next-generation nuclear fission and high-temperature materials technologies.

What is the update on the MQ-9B SeaGuardian interest globally? What are the capability and cost advantages of this platform?

MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. The UK Ministry of Defence selected MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its MQ-9B Protector program, and recently concluded the production conract for deliveries to the Royal Air Force. SkyGuardian was selected by the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003, and the Belgian Ministry of Defence signed a contract for SkyGuardian in August. The United Arab Emirates were approved for the procurement of 18 MQ-9B in November of 2020.

The SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian are both MQ-9B RPA. The primary difference is the SeaGuardian features a multi-mode maritime patrol radar (MPR) with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode and the SkyGuardian features a multi-mode long-range overland with ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar. Additionally, the SeaGuardian includes Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) sonobuoy processing and control. This cross-domain maritime sensor suite, augmented by automatic track correlation and anomaly-detection algorithms, enables real-time detection and identification of surface and subsurface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles. Both the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian deliver adverse-weather capability – with lightning protection, a damage-tolerant airframe, and a de-icing system – and are built for compliance with STANAG-4671 (NATO airworthiness standard for UAVs).

How is the EMALS program doing in the US and how many countries are keen on EMALS technology?

There is on-going interest in bringing Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) capabilities to support India’s next generation aircraft carrier. Our respective governments will continue discussions and any coordination of potential demonstrations to bring these systems to the fleet as India formulates plans for its future carrier fleet.

How is the progress on the ITER project that both US and India are a part of?

The ITER (International Nuclear Fusion Research and Engineering) project remains on schedule to begin operations in 2025, which is a remarkable achievement given the impact of the global pandemic. This year, site construction surpassed the 70 percent mark, and assembly of the ITER device itself began, using components fabricated and contributed by the member nations.

In southern France, 35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest Tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.

India is an ITER member, along with China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

ITER will be the first fusion device to produce net energy – the point when the total power produced during a fusion plasma pulse surpasses the thermal power injected to heat the plasma. ITER will also be the first fusion device to demonstrate many of the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes necessary for the next step, production of fusion-based electricity.

Please describe your initiatives in space, nuclear energy and the global potential?

We have made several significant announcements the last year that illustrate how our history in developing a variety of disruptive nuclear technologies is providing a path of innovation to address new market opportunities in advanced materials, energy and space. GA’s Nuclear Technologies and Materials (NTM) division has been integrated into GA-EMS, providing us with greater synergies and support to focus on growing Earth and space energy system opportunities, including in-space propulsion and power systems. In fact, GA-EMS recently delivered a concept for a NASA-funded study for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion reactor to power future astronaut missions to Mars. GA-EMS also announced it is collaborating with Framatome Inc. in France to develop a new helium-cooled 50-Megawatt electric (MWe) Fast Modular Reactor (FMR) concept that will produce safe, carbon-free electricity and can be factory built and assembled on-site to reduce costs and enable incremental capacity additions. The GA-EMS-led team will be able to demonstrate the FMR design as early as 2030.

Kindly provide an update on SeaGuardian flights held in Japan last year?

Japan’s Coast Guard recently completed successful flight testing of the GA-ASI SeaGuardian. The flights were conducted in the Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, between Oct. 15 and Nov. 10, 2020. The tests validated the maritime wide-area (MWAS) surveillance systems support for the Japan Coast Guard to carry out missions for search and rescue, disaster response and maritime law enforcement. The flight tests supported the Japan Coast Guard’s policy on Strengthening Maritime Security System which calls for modernized maritime technologies to protect Japan’s sovereignty.

How do you see the US India Defence relationship evolve in the future?

The upward trajectory of the India-US strategic partnership has bipartisan backing. The fundamental precepts of this relationship and the convergence on strategic issues is expected to strongly continue at strategic levels in both government and industry this century.

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