DefenseNews reports that the Obama administration has made strengthening ties with India a priority, and this has been highlighted by the focus Defense Secretary Ash Carter has had on the South Asian nation. Ashley Tellis, a former State Department official now with the Carnegie Endowment, calls the recent state visit of Prime Minister Modi, “a culmination of what Obama has tried to do since he came into office.”
“This is one of the biggest, fastest moving defense relationships in the world, period,” said Frank Wisner, ambassador to India under President Clinton, and now with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs. He added later, “We have an interest in an India that is robustly armed. India is not a predatory power, and she is big enough and important enough that she helps anchor the balance of power in Asia. A good relationship with India is part of a good relationship with China.”
With this focus, the Pentagon has grown increasingly open to technological development programs with India. The core of the technology relationship between the two nations is the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, a specialized program launched in 2012 and championed by Carter, then deputy defense secretary.
India is seeking help from the U.S. in two importent areas: engine technology for its proposed homegrown advanced medium combat aircraft, and an electro-magnetic aircraft launch system for the proposed homegrown aircraft carrier INS Vishal. India is also in the market for high-end, secure communications gear for her troops, and here Wisner sees potential for a deal for a U.S. firm to install, operate and maintain such equipment.
The biggest opportunity for the nations to work together will materialize if India selects an American fighter to become the backbone of the Indian Air Force, and if this happens, Tellis says, “I think the game changes because then you will have major defense cooperation on a scale we have never seen with the U.S. It starts with buying 90 planes but probably ends up with manufacturing 200 airplanes in India. That is big. So I think that is something we will have to wait and see what happens.”