US Promises to Share Defense Technology with India, But Will It Follow Through?

In December 2016, President Obama signed a bill designating India as a "Major Defence Partner," a term the United States does not apply to any other nation.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The United States and India intend to cooperate in defence as New Delhi wants to reduce its dependence on Russia, a major military supplier. The decision was made on June 5 during a meeting between Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his American counterpart, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, at New Delhi’s Manekshaw Centre. Before the Indian Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to Washington, the meeting focused on expanding defence cooperation. 

Austin announced that the two countries had devised an ambitious new roadmap for defence-industrial cooperation to speed up the implementation of high-priority joint development and production projects. The US military chief said that the US is committed to working closely with India to support their shared goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. He also stressed that the US does not want to set up a regional NATO.

A confluence of strategic interests and increased security cooperation were discussed, according to a tweet that Singh sent out after his conversation with Austin. Singh wrote that the Indo-Pacific region cannot be free, open, and managed without the cooperation of India and the US. 

After the Russian special operation in Ukraine began, Western nations, headed by the US, increased pressure on India due to its policy of maintaining balanced relations with Moscow. 

India did not join the sanctions against Moscow but increased its trade to record levels. Consequently, during the unfinished fiscal year 2022-2023, Russia exported a record $41.6 billion worth of products to India, allowing it to become the country’s fifth-largest trading partner. In contrast, the value of Indian exports to Russia was only $2.8 billion. Most of Russia’s exports to India consist of hydrocarbons and oil products.

Josep Borrell, the head of the European diplomacy, deemed it normal for India to purchase Russian oil; this is within the framework of sanctions, particularly given the price ceiling; New Delhi can purchase raw materials for significantly less. The diplomat observed that he must act if India is to become a centre for refining Russian oil and selling the resulting oil products to the European Union.

Promises have been made before

In December 2016, President Obama signed a bill designating India as a “Major Defence Partner,” a term the United States does not apply to any other nation. It was intended to recognise that although India will not be a US alliance partner, the administration wishes to treat it as such to grant it access to advanced technologies usually reserved for close US allies, Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a leading American think tank, explained to PTI. 

According to a senior Obama administration official, India will be the only nation outside the US’s formal treaty allies to access nearly 99 per cent of the United States’ most cutting-edge defence technologies.

Under this recognition, India would receive license-free access to a vast array of dual-use technologies in exchange for its commitment to advance its export control objectives. The official acknowledged that the perception in New Delhi is that India does not have access to the type of technology it requires from the US and stated that this is a constant topic of discussion. 

The official claimed that less than one per cent of all export requests to India are denied. They are not prohibited to just India. They are denied due to the global licensing policies of the US. The official asserted that the US does not share certain technologies with anyone worldwide. In 2023, however, the US went out of its way to facilitate the transfer of Virginia-class submarines to Australia. It is among the equipment the United States does not export abroad.

In contrast, Moscow and New Delhi have been allies for decades, with Russia being India’s primary arms supplier. Russia has leased its nuclear submarines to India despite intense opposition from the US.

The US and European Union have tried to discourage India from buying Russian military hardware since the Russia- Ukraine war over NATO expansion. Western countries, especially the US and France, are now negotiating multi-billion dollar contracts, and diplomats say India prioritises technology transfer in any arms deal.

According to the US Department of Defence, the latest deal between Lloyd Austin and Rajnath Singh is meant to speed up technological cooperation and joint production in areas like air combat and ground mobility systems, underwater operations, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The initiative aims to alter the paradigm of cooperation between the US and Indian defence sectors, according to a statement from the Pentagon. It could provide India with access to cutting-edge technology and support India’s defence modernisation plans.

There is a discrepancy between US statements and actions, as seen by the necessity to ratify this pact after Obama’s 2016 legislation. 


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