The United States has recently announced significant agreements with India to sell weapons and share sensitive military technology, signaling the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthen relations with New Delhi as a countermeasure against China’s growing influence in Asia. However, these plans face hurdles due to the stringent regulations governing U.S. weapons exports. This article explores the challenges posed by export rules and the efforts made to enhance defense cooperation between the two nations.
U.S.-India Defense Agreements and Hurdles
During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit, the Biden administration unveiled plans for defense cooperation, including General Electric Co’s (GE) agreement to produce jet engines in India for Indian military aircraft and the procurement of U.S.-made General Atomics armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones. However, strict U.S. regulations, such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), present obstacles to technology sharing and defense cooperation, even with close allies like Britain and Australia.
Breaking Down Barriers for Technology Sharing:
Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, emphasizes the need to overcome barriers and facilitate technology sharing with allies like India. Recognizing the evolving regional security landscape, Ratner advocates for a departure from the status quo and a more proactive approach to cooperation.
Efforts have been made to streamline defense sales to India, with the introduction of legislation by U.S. Senate India Caucus co-chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn to expedite the process.
Challenges Ahead: Congressional and Departmental Concerns:
Efforts to accelerate technology sharing with India may encounter resistance both in the U.S. Congress and at the U.S. State Department.
While legislation aims to reduce the time Congress has to block arms sales to India, concerns persist over India’s access to sensitive technologies without assuming the same obligations and responsibilities as U.S. allies. Maintaining close relations with Russia and India’s stance on the Ukraine invasion further complicate matters.
Balancing Approvals and Restrictions:
Former senior Pentagon official Bill Greenwalt suggests that obtaining approvals for the jet engine deal and military drones should be relatively straightforward, although export authorization from the State Department may come with certain restrictions.
The U.S. Missile Technology Control Regime adds another layer of complexity. Furthermore, the acceptance of limitations by India regarding the technology it receives from the U.S. remains a significant factor.
The Potential and Importance of Collaboration:
While ITAR regulations and U.S. State Department oversight may deter cooperation, India possesses burgeoning IT expertise, with the potential to surpass the United States in areas like integrated command and control, sensor fusion, autonomy, and data analytics.
Collaborative efforts between the two nations could yield greater progress. Overcoming ITAR disincentives and recognizing India’s potential are crucial for successful cooperation.
Despite the challenges posed by U.S. weapons export rules, the U.S. and India are committed to strengthening defense ties. Streamlining approval processes and fostering fast-paced deal-making will be instrumental in accelerating advanced defense technology transfer. Balancing restrictions, encouraging collaboration, and recognizing India’s growing capabilities are key to achieving closer U.S.-India defense cooperation in the face of evolving geopolitical dynamics.