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Indo US Defence Industry Cooperation From Co Development to Sales

Experimental UGV for Indian Army

The introduction of Stryker ICV in the scheme by the US indicates that the trajectory of India US Defence industry cooperation is moving from co-development to defence sales much against violation of a previous agreement such as Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which appears to have been given a quiet burial.

The recently adopted “Roadmap for India-U.S. Defence Industrial Cooperation,” [Roadmap] expands defence technology cooperation to other areas as well and should be welcome in that respect.

In fact in terms of defence technology and production as well the Roadmap states apart from other issues[1], that “The projects will be structured with intent to facilitate co-development, and eventually co-production opportunities”.

While this is the intent, given the projects that are in the pipeline it is apparent that the industry cooperation is likely be at best in terms of co-production rather than development and in some cases outright defence sales.

Based on the Joint Statement: Fifth Annual India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and the press briefing held for the media in which the Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra and the Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane participated the projects that are in progress are three GE F 414 jet engines and a mysterious third item the infantry combat vehicles -which the Americans seem to have proposed for the first time.

As far as GE F 414 aero engines are concerned discussions on commercial agreement between General Electric (GE) Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture GE F-414 jet engines in India are being held.

Responding to questions during the media conference, Shri Giridhar Aramane, Defence Secretary indicated that India and the US are finalizing the commercial arrangement and the necessary legal requirements transfer of technology of the GE F 414 engine.

There is a substantial share of transfer of technology which is expected to be negotiated. This project would be a defence sales or at best indigenous manufacture with transfer of technology.

The final agreement will denote how this will be worked out. Suffice to say the F 414 engine is not top of the line, but India cannot be a “chooser,” given that no alternatives have been developed so far including the indigenous Kaveri engine of the DRDO.

The second project as per Mr. Aramane was the “MQ-9B HAIL i.e high altitude long endurance,” for which Letter of request has been submitted by the Indian government but, “the US has yet to respond as General Atomics has to take clearance from the US government” This is expected to be a one to one sale to India with possibly an indigenous Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) thrown in.

A third surprise project was revealed by the Defence Secretary who said, “discussions were ongoing for the infantry combat vehicle, as a part of the defence industry cooperation roadmap between the two countries”. “The aim is to co-develop and co-produce machinery, equipment, weapons required by the two countries. So cooperation will happen when Indian military's needs are finalised specifically and then they arrive at a production plan,” he said.

The initial offer on “several infantry combat vehicle systems has come from US,” Girimane added.

The US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III in his briefing to the media the same day went even further and said, “we agreed to move forward with the co-production of armored infantry vehicles,” suggesting that the proposal is finalized. Mark the phrase “co-production,” and not co-development.

A couple of media reports indicated that the US has proposed the “Stryker” combat vehicle, though no specifics were mentioned in the Transcript of the media briefings and other official interactions.

The Stryker obviously does not fall in the co-development and co-production category as the system is in use in the US armed forces since 2002 or is two decades old. This was developed by the Canadian subsidiary of General Dynamics.

In case approved this may take the place of the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) programme of the Indian Army which is languishing for long.

Stryker is a wheeled ICV which may not be suitable for Indian conditions where infantry following in the wake of the armour will operate mainly in the desert and semi desert terrain. The requirement is for a tracked vehicle.

The onus has been left to the Indian Army now to approve the US proposal. Hopefully the Army brass which has been struggling for the FICV project for decades will arrive at an operationally optimal solution suiting the country and not fall prey to “directions from the top” – as it did in the case of the Arjun Main Battle Tank.

On the whole it is apparent that the US is using the so called, “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” “Major Defence Partnership” and the “Roadmap for India-U.S. Defence Industrial Cooperation,” to promote defence sales to India which are expected to benefit companies as the GE Aerospace, General Atomics and General Dynamics while indigenization will languish.

This comes even as India’s defence industry – public and private have come up with a few options at least in the FICV category which need to be examined before even considering the US proposal.

Reports indicate government owned Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited (AVNL) and private sector companies as Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Tata Motors  and Mahindra Defence Systems are already developing FICV prototypes for the likely order of over 1700 vehicles.

These projects are expected to give a boost to the Prime Minister’s Agenda of Atma Nirbhar Bharat in Defence rather than the Stryker programme.

Indeed, Indian Ministry of Defence has taken admirable steps to promote indigenization but these seem to be at the policy level, impetus will be required for effective implementation of the indigenous projects which are keenly pursued by the country’s defence industry in the hopes that orders will come.

While the joint statement and other interactions during the 2+2 dialogue held on talks of mutuality in co-development and co-production – Indian Ministry of Defence based on experience should have been aware that major arms exporters as the US or Russia imply sales.



[1] The full statement, “India and the United States will identify concepts for mission-driven cooperative projects to solve military problems of mutual interest, and in alignment with national strategic vision and requirements, involving advanced technologies. Bilateral security concerns will serve as the basis for prioritizing engineering work in prototyping and experimentation, and for forecasting needs for applied and basic research among the nations’ defense scientific communities, governments, industries, and centers of innovation. The projects will be structured with intent to facilitate co-development, and eventually co-production opportunities.”


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