A technology and defense initiative by India and the United States aims at countering China and reducing New Delhi’s dependence on Russian weapons. Analysts say it also marks a significant push in tightening the US and India’s strategic partnership.
Both countries will deepen cooperation in areas like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G wireless networks, and semiconductors – areas in which China has acquired a dominant position.
“This convergence comes at a time when technology is becoming a determinant in US-China relations. In some ways, the geopolitics of technology is shaping the global balance of power,” Harsh Pant, the vice-president of studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said.
“This also represents America placing a huge bet on India’s emergence as a major player in the Indo-Pacific,” Pant added.
Senior officials from both countries met in Washington earlier this month for the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies. The blueprint was announced by US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last May on the sidelines of a Quad summit in Tokyo.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, told reporters that the goal is for technological partnerships to be “the next big milestone” in the New Delhi-Washington relationship.
Concerned about America’s reliance on China for critical components such as semiconductors, Washington has taken steps to halt the sale of advanced semiconductor technology to Beijing. It also wants to shift the manufacture of such components to friendly countries.
India, whose relations with China have plummeted since a deadly clash along their Himalayan border three years ago, is also aiming to boost local manufacturing in crucial sectors such as semiconductors which are at the heart of modern electronic devices.
“Geopolitics is a big driver of this new initiative,” Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, said, adding that the agreement reflects how far the India-US relationship has come over the last few decades.
“In recent years they’ve built enough trust to be talking about technology transfers and intelligence-sharing – something that Washington tends to do only with its closest strategic partners,” Kugelman pointed out.
The agreement also aims to facilitate the joint development of defense technologies and weapons production in India.
New Delhi wants to coproduce weapons in India with foreign defense manufacturers rather than purchase them outright. But US restrictions on transferring technology have stalled such efforts with American companies.
The initial focus will be on jet engines, artillery systems, and armored infantry vehicles.
During the meeting in Washington earlier this month, American officials said that the government would look into expediting a review of an application by US manufacturer General Electric to jointly build jet engines in India.
“The more India and the US will work on cutting-edge technologies, the less relevant Russia will become to India’s strategic calculations,” Pant said.
New Delhi’s partnership with Washington has been spurred by India’s growing worries about China as troops from both countries face off along their disputed Himalayan border for a third winter.
Still, India did not join in Western sanctions against Russia or outright condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, raising questions about the divergent position it took from the US.
Analysts in India pointed out that besides its longstanding policy of strategic autonomy, New Delhi’s choices were also constrained by its heavy dependence on Russia for weapons.
Although the country has diversified its defense purchases in recent years, more than two-thirds of its military equipment is of Russian origin and critical to its security needs amid its standoff with China.
“Washington’s current policy is to play a long game and to try to persuade New Delhi that over the longer term, Moscow will be too cash-strapped and sanctioned to provide military supplies to India,” Kugelman said.
“And that the US will position itself to provide India with the types of military equipment that New Delhi has long secured from Russia,” he added.
Yet translating the potential of the defense and technology agreements on the ground remains to be tested because much will depend on how private companies in both countries move to firm up partnerships.
While India has a highly skilled workforce, American companies have long complained of Indian regulations that have been an obstacle to manufacturing in the country.
In response, New Delhi cites strict US regulations on technology transfers as hampering those efforts.
But the agreement is seen as a positive signal of the two countries overcoming long-standing issues of trust.
“Despite India’s stand on Ukraine, despite other problems, these have become marginal to the larger strategic vision that the two nations have. It is now guided by the Indo-Pacific, where they are increasingly on the same side,” Pant said.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.