The role of DTTI in developing new areas of technology cooperation in the defence sector through co-development and co-production assumes significance. However, it is yet yield any significant tangible results for the Defence Forces.
Defence cooperation between the United States (US) and India is a strategic priority for both nations, but the pace and scope of cooperation on defence technology and trade has been obstructed by differing bureaucratic processes and legal requirements. To end this, Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) was launched in 2012, by the US and Indian Governments to expedite the scope of cooperation on defence technology. It is an unprecedented joint endeavor that brings sustained leadership focus to the bilateral defence trade relationship, creates opportunities for US-India in developing new areas of technical cooperation in the defence sector including co-production and co-development, and fosters more sophisticated science and technology cooperation and, thus, assumes significance. The US said to have offered India some hi-tech items of military hardware for co-production and co-development under DTTI. It would help United States to tap the Indian market potential and at the same time, technology knowhow would make India less dependent on manufacturer at the time of repairing, upgrading and support. However, so far no project has been done under this mechanism.
Recently, during the 9th meeting of India US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), a joint Statement of Intent (SoI) that formalized their intention to co-develop a range of cutting-edge warfighting technologies and systems was signed on 24 October 2019. The projects include three short-term projects, two mid-term projects and two long-term projects for co development.
The near-term projects will move forward to a project agreement or to Foreign Military Sales (FMS) within “six months or so” and the projects are:-
- Air-launched small UAS, lightweight small arms technology project building rifles, carbines and machine guns and ammunition from lightweight polymer cast material. To this regard, a deal has been signed in Feb 2019 by the Indian MoD with Sig Sauer, for 72,400 number of 7.62mm rifles worth Rs 700 Crores. These assault rifles will suit the Army's operational tactic of 'shoot to kill' instead of incapacitation.
- Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) a command and control software that enables coherent battlefield command.
The mid-term projects are:-
- Maritime domain awareness is termed “Sea Link Advanced Analysis.
- Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality for Aircraft Maintenance (VAMRAM
- The long-term projects are:-
- Terrain-shaping obstacles increasing the lethality of traditional obstacles such as mines and barbed wire.
- Counter UAS rocket artillery and mortar” or CU-RAM.
Apart from the above SoI projects there are other areas as well in which both the nations have cooperated. These include Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (ACTC), co-development of Raven micro-UAS; mission-specific interiors for C-130J Super Hercules aircraft; a mobile electric-hybrid power source, and protective clothing for soldiers in a nuclear contaminated battlefield which have not made any headway. Also, the collaboration on developing high-performance, aerospace jet engines which is an imperative arena for India, has now been scrapped.
In some of the projects selected in the past India could only contribute a little on the name of “co-development, as in the case of aero engine technologies where US are way much ahead, while Indian entities are at an early stage of the learning curve, struggling to develop the Kaveri jet engine. The new approach for the choice of products and technologies now being co-developed recognizes that the Indian partner must bring credible technological capability to the table. The OEM would never part with Intellectual Property (IP) that had cost billions to develop over decades at bargain price. The OEMs are guided by commercial, not strategic, considerations as well US will not easily grant export control licences for critical engine technology. In view of Indian requirements and on-going procurement of Fighter Aircraft, US at best may agree to transfer manufacturing line blueprints for building engines in India. This would provide an edge to US in the procurement. Both countries have finalised the Industry Security Annex (ISA) that will allow the US to safely transfer classified military technology to Indian private sector companies. ISA will be an adjunct to the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) which both countries designed in September 2018.
The forum needs to allow more space for industry-to-industry collaboration. This time seven American and twenty Indian defence firms attended the new “DTTI Industry Collaboration Forum”. The services should drive projects on platform for projects involving operational cooperation such as “Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation” (ACTC), which involves US-India partnership in developing the next indigenous aircraft carrier. So far the groups have not come to an understanding on what exportable technologies could be useful to the India and challenge of US export controls. The standard operating procedure for DTTI is also likely to be finalised in the next 'Two Plus Two' dialogue which is likely to be held in December 2019. At the end it can be said, that the DTTI which was aimed at identifying and promoting major joint development and manufacturing projects for the defence forces has not yielded any significant tangible results.