With India being designated as a major defence partner by the US, it is time the two countries commit themselves to defense projects, a former Obama-era top Pentagon official has said. “Both governments need to make a programme decision and commit. These decisions need to be made at the highest levels in both governments with a clear timeline against which progress will be measured,” said Keith Webster, who represented the Pentagon in the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) in the Obama administration.
For taking the India-US defence relationship to the next level, Webster said a serious look must be given to a project or two under the DTTI. “Not only a look, but a joint commitment to develop, invest and field a joint capability. The US knows how to do this and has done so globally on select capability with mixed results,” he said in his address to an event organised at the US Capitol by the US India Friendship Council.
“On the table today are a host of opportunities if only both nations would commit. Opportunities not only include jointly developed capability such as next generation ground combat vehicles, but also include programs unique to GOI service requirements that provide India with the potential to develop, field and sell globally a unique capability,” Webster said.
To see tangible progress beyond a buyer seller paradigm, he argued that the Indian government must make a programme commitment with a ‘Make in India’ benefit.
“Whether fighter aircraft, both proposals of which have a clear and significant Make in India payoff, or some other capability initiative, the GOI must make an investment decision,” Webster said.
In turn, the US then must without hesitation support such a decision by India, he said. “Once a programme is chosen and a political decision is made to move forward, both nations can then bundle and complete the remaining policy and agreement unfinished business which will be necessary to ensure programme success, while more clearly understanding the necessity to do so,” said Webster, who currently is president, defense and aerospace export council US Chamber of Commerce.
“Defined joint projects agreed to at the highest levels, with associated timelines against which progress can be measured, have often allowed for success in the past and will again in the future. As counter-terrorism efforts multiply, along with a focus on regional stability in the Indo-Pacific and specifically China, following this approach will be beneficial for the future of this bilateral relationship,” he argued.
Webster said the US and India are in an extremely unique and hopeful period of the relationship and defense cooperation remains the cornerstone.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, India has tackled offset policies, foreign direct investment, and procurement procedures, seeking to harness the private sector’s role in providing military capability as reflected in the 2016 Defense Production Policy (DPP) guidelines and as rumored to be further enhanced in the 2018 DPP currently being drafted, he said.
The US has revised its technology transfer policies to place India on par with some of its closest allies and legally recognised India as a major defence partner in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. “Despite these significant steps forward, the challenge remains how to demonstrate the impact of these historic decisions especially with respect to “make in India” joint defense capability programmes,” he said.