By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, June 19: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the US, which begins on June 21, is expected to give a boost to Indo-US partnerships in cutting-edge science and technology, especially those with defense applications.
The most pressing reasons for the strengthening of Indo-US ties are India’s deteriorating relations with China and a slight cooling of its defense ties with Russia.
China has not only occupied chunks of Indian territory on the border but has also failed to attend G20 sessions in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh on the plea that these are disputed territories. More recently, China asked all Indian journalists posted in China to leave. The Indian Foreign Minister, S.Jaishankar, has repeatedly stated that India’s relations with China will not improve unless China maintains peace and tranquility on the border as per the 1993 agreement. But China has shown scant regard for that.
India’s relations with Russia, excellent till recently, has slightly soured because Russia has stopped the delivery of the promised S-400 missile system citing the war in Ukraine. This has forced India to look to the West for armaments. India is also hungry for Western technologies to keep pace with China.
In a paper in Carnegie India on Modi’s visit, Konarak Bhandari, Arun Singh and Rudra Chaudhuri, say that Indian and US officials working on the visit are “fixated on deliverables.” The deliverables include developments in the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET).
The iCET is designed to do more in existing areas of technology cooperation, generate new opportunities, and make the most of the present moment in geopolitical change, the authors explain.
The iCET was formally launched by the National Security Advisers of the two countries, Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval, on January 31, 2023, in Washington, DC.
The iCET is designed to deliver a range of deals which include: setting up task forces to examine the creation of a “complimentary semiconductor ecosystem”; facilitating an exchange of technologies and capital; developing standards in AI; loosening the grip of export controls to fuel innovation and manufacturing (which to start with includes a near-complete deal to coproduce GE jet engines for indigenously produced aircraft in India); creating quantum hubs and operational working groups between experts in both countries; and more generally; multiplying the effects of transactions between corporations and research institutions invested in critical and emerging technologies in both countries.
The authors of the paper point out that almost every month, US and Indian officials meet to discuss some aspect of the iCET or the other.
“Whether it is a space and AI dialogue, export controllers from the United States taking part in workshops in tech capitals like Bengaluru; defense officials planning new initiatives such as creating bilateral defense accelerators and negotiations around the co-production of long-range artillery; corporations working out mutually satisfactory deals; think tanks and industry chambers hosting a range of Track 1.5 interactions; scientists and technicians logging on and off a constant barrage of iCET calls; or newborn communities pooling together to craft various defense-related opportunities; the sheer momentum generated by the iCET is noteworthy,” they say.
In May, P. K. Mishra, the Principal Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister, and Giridhar Aramane, the Indian Defense Secretary, visited the US to discuss technology partnership, especially how iCET could lead to “unprecedented opportunities” in the defense sector.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in India soon after, in the beginning of June. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited India in March 2023. Raimondo said that the US saw India “as a trusted technology partner” and envisaged opportunities for the private sectors of the two countries to work together.
Raimondo and Piyush Goyal, the Indian Commerce and Industry minister, signed an MOU to “establish a collaborative mechanism on semiconductor supply chain resiliency and diversification.” Both sides agreed to “coordinate the structure” of their respective incentive schemes on semiconductors. As a follow-up, Ramin Toloui, the Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the US State Department, visited Delhi to discuss incentive schemes.
In another visit, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration at the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), Thea Kendler, visited Bengaluru and Delhi in April to work through the questions around the export controls of dual-use items.
The NASA chief economist visited India to interact with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Indian space start-ups with the view to boosting cooperation. At least a dozen other such official-level exchanges took place only in the last three months, the authors say.
Unclogging Export Controls
A new Strategic Trade Dialogue took place on June 6 that was meant to unclog export control regulations and take forward the strategic technology and trade collaborations” created under iCET. More is being done to connect export controllers to applicants, including start-ups and MSMEs in India in the field of space technology.
The U.S International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) continues to be a bugbear for deeper cooperation. But the authors of the paper say that simple steps like running export control workshops would clear the path for collaboration.
On semiconductors, both sides signed an MOU, under the US-India Commercial Dialogue, that would establish a semiconductor subcommittee to vet and review recommendations from a Task Force that was created following the iCET launch this year.
Furthermore, the Indian Semiconductor Mission (ISM), located in the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, entered into an agreement with Purdue University in May 2023 to conduct joint research and development programs aimed at “designing, manufacturing, and commercializing semiconductor chips.”
On cooperation in defense innovation, both sides announced that an INDUS-X event would take place in the US during Modi’s visit. INDUS-X provides a forward-looking agenda to give meaning to the defense innovation bridge announced under the iCET.
What India Should Do At Its End
On its part, India has to do a number of things to make iCET work, including changing its laws and regulations, Bhandari et.al say.
India has announced its National Quantum Mission at a cost of approximately US$ 727 million to seed and nurture an innovation ecosystem in quantum technologies. India announced a new space policy in April 2023. This will allow investors, including those from the US, to gain clarity about the relevant regulatory bodies that oversee India’s space ecosystem.
“Furthermore, India’s legislative agenda may soon see the passing of a long-pending space bill. If this bill eventually gets passed, it would go a long way in providing a predictable regulatory environment to US-based investors. Large U.S. technology companies have lately started to invest and incubate start-ups in India’s space sector. A new space law will provide much-needed, granular-level clarity about how such investments may be treated,” the authors note.
In December 2021, India announced a semiconductor incentive scheme. But the impact was poor. But recently, Micron Technology, a major U.S. semiconductor firm, had spoken about evaluating opportunities in India regarding assembly operations. India, on its part, has announced a massive upgrade to its domestic semiconductor laboratory in Mohali in Punjab.
India has started to burnish its credentials as a destination for state-of-the-art scientific facilities, the authors point out. And the US is involved in this field also.
“Recently, it announced the setting up of a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) facility—the fifth one set up globally after the twin LIGO facilities in the United States and one facility each in Japan and Italy. It will study phenomena such as black holes to “make new discoveries about the universe. The Indian government has already committed to invest approximately $320 million in this singular facility. This will be further augmented by a supply of components worth $80 million from the United States.”