New India-US pact to secure shared defence tech

New India-US pact to secure shared defence tech

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper before their bilateral meeting in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (PTI Photo)

India has signed a new pact with the United States to facilitate the exchange of classified military information between private companies of the two countries, thus clearing the way for co-development and co-production of defence technology and hardware.

The new Industrial Security Annex (ISA) was added to the existing General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) to provide a framework for exchange and protection of classified military information between the US and Indian defence industries. The ISA was signed on the sideline of the second India-America 2+2 dialogue, which External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had with their US counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

Today, we are proud to conclude the Industrial Security Annex, which will facilitate collaboration between our defense industries by supporting the secure transfer of key information and technology,” Esper, US Secretary of Defence, told mediapersons after the 2+2 dialogue. “We also finalized three agreements under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, which will enhance our ability to co-produce and co-develop critical technologies.”

The India-US GSOMIA currently allows exchange of classified information about military technologies between the entities of the governments of the two nations, but not between private companies. The ISA will enable greater industry-to-industry collaboration for co-production and co-development in the defence sector, in line with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship “Make in India” programme in the defence sector. “We hope that this (ISA) will enable smooth transfer of classified technology and information between private entities of India and the US,” Rajnath Singh, Esper's counterpart in New Delhi, said.

President Donald Trump's administration in Washington D.C. has been keen to promote “co-research, co-production and co-development” of military hardware by Indian and American companies. But it has also been concerned over the possibility of any third country getting access to and stealing the technologies that the US companies would share with their counterparts in India. The US has been nudging India to make the protocols and processes more effective to protect defence technology and procurement processes from piracy.

The ISA has New Delhi guaranteeing for protection of the classified information and military technology the US private companies will share with partners in India to elevate the defence relations from the seller-buyer level to the level of joint R&D and joint production.

The ISA is the third of the four “foundational pacts”, which Washington D.C. has since long been nudging New Delhi to sign, promising that they would make it easier for India to access advanced defence technologies from the US. The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed on the sideline of the first India-US 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi in September 2018. It facilitated access to advanced defense systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing military hardware sourced from the US.

The first such pact India signed with the US was the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement or the LEMOA. It was inked in 2016 and made it obligatory for both India and the US to support each other's aircraft, ships and personnel with logistics, fuel and spares.

The second India-US 2+2 dialogue in Washington D.C. on Wednesday saw both sides agreeing to continue discussions on the fourth – the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA, which will enable exchange of geo-spatial information between the two countries, enhancing the operational efficiency of the US platforms currently being operated by India.

Two US companies – Boeing and Lockheed Martin – are in the race to win a contract worth about $ 15 billion to supply Indian Air Force (IAF) 114 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of MIG 21s. New Delhi wants the aircraft to be manufactured in India.

India is also likely to clinch deals worth over $ 7 billion with the US for procurement of Sea Guardian armed drones and P-8I anti-submarine warfare and surveillance aircraft.

India and the US on Wednesday also finalized Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which would harmonise processes of the two sides for identification, development and execution of projects for cooperation. The proposed Industry-to-Industry Framework under DTTI will establish a standing mechanism for dialogue and exchanges between the US and Indian defence companies and their governments on defense technology and industrial cooperation. It will enable greater industry-to-industry cooperation under the DTTI, sources said in New Delhi.

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