External Affairs

India Can Buy Almost All Defence Technologies Now, Says US Official

US defence secretary Ash Carter, left, talks with India's minister of defence Manohar Parrikar. Credit: PTI/File Photo

US defence secretary Ash Carter, left, talks with India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar. Credit: PTI/File Photo

Washington: India will be the only country outside the US’ formal treaty allies that will gain access to almost 99% of latest America’s defence technologies after being recognised as a ‘Major Defence Partner’, a senior Obama administration official has said.

“India enjoys access to defence technologies that is on par with our treaty allies. That is a very unique status. India is the only country that enjoys that status outside our formal treaty allies,” the official told PTI explaining what ‘Major Defence Partner’ status means for India.

Early this month, after a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House, the US, in a joint statement, recognised India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’.
“We were looking for something unique. This language you would not find in any arms transfer legislation or any of our existing policies. This is new guidance and new language that is intended to reflect unique things that we have done with India under our defence partnership,” the senior administration official said.

“This is intended to solidify the India-specific forward leaning policies for approval that the US President and defence secretary Ashton Carter and our export control system have implemented in the last eight years,” the official said.

Under this recognition, India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that New Delhi has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.

Acknowledging that the impression in New Delhi was that India was not getting access to the kind of technology it needed from the US, the official said it was a constant source of discussion.

“In reality, less than 1% of all exports requests are denied to India. They are not denied because of India. They are denied because of global US licensing policies. We do not share certain technologies with anybody in the world,” the official asserted.

The perception in India that the denial of such technologies is reflective of India-US relationship is far from the truth, the official said.

Inside the bureaucratic system of the US, such a recognition removes a number of major export control hurdles for India. The category of ‘Major Defence Partner’ was created specifically for India, observed Ashley Tellis, of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a top US think-tank.

“It was meant to recognise that although India will not be an alliance partner of the US, the administration seeks to treat it as such for purposes of giving it access to advanced technologies of the kind that are reserved for close US allies,” Tellis told PTI.

“The US expects that bilateral defence ties will only grow in the years ahead. India and the US will continue to work together especially regarding maritime security, and India will eventually be admitted to global non-proliferation regimes, and it will sign the foundational agreements,” he said in response to a question.

“As these developments materialise, India’s access to the US technology will also increase, and the major defence partner moniker is intended to signal to both the outside world and to the US bureaucracy overseeing licensing that India is viewed as a unique collaborator and will be treated as such where access to advanced technologies are concerned,” Tellis said.

Calling India a ‘Major Defence Partner’ is “more a term of art than a technical designation, noted Richard M Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in the US India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another top US think-tank.

“It certainly captures what is emerging as a unique relationship, exhibited by programs such as the defence technology and trade initiative and the establishment of a dedicated ‘India Rapid Reaction Cell’ inside the Pentagon. Neither exists for a country other than India,” he said.

“But the term Major Defence Partner does not automatically trigger a specific process or program in the US system. Our two countries are feeling their way around the contours of our defence relationship,” Rossow told PTI.