By Capt Vikram Mahajan (retd)
The Secretary, Department of Defence Production, Raj Kumar and the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Sustainment, Ms Ellen Lord are scheduled to meet for the 10th edition of the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) today the 15 September 2020.
Let us look at the various vicissitudes that DTTI has undergone in the eight years of its formation.
The Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) was formed in 2012 between the US and India, to enhance the bilateral relations in defence by venturing into the field of advanced defence research and development and manufacturing. The aim was to strengthen the US and India’s defence industrial base by moving away from the traditional “buyer-seller” dynamic toward a more collaborative approach. This would be through exploring new areas of technological collaboration through co-development and co-production. Co-development of a defence product between two nation may not be a new concept, but formalising the process to execute multiple projects of co-development is an ambitious innovation. While it has taken eight years, the framework seems finally ready for meaningful execution. Let us view some of the steps taken so far.
The enabling agreements which have been signed between the two countries are GSOMIA, LEMOA and COMCASA. These agreements along with BECA, which is slated to be signed in the forthcoming 2+2 ministerial dialogue scheduled for October, enhance cooperation and interoperability between the armed forces of the two democracies. Signing of GSOMIA and up-gradation of India to the STA-1 status for trade by the US provides a framework for exchange and protection of classified military information between the U.S industry and the public and private Indian defence companies. Enhanced bilateral exercises, which over the years have increased in scope and complexity have enabled a better understanding of each other’s capabilities and limitations. All these steps provide greater avenues to identify and execute meaningful projects under DTTI.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) to harmonize the processes for identification, development, and execution of projects under the DTTI has been formulated and was ratified last year. The inclusion of Indian private industries and fostering the power of innovators has been a major step in the right direction. Formation and eventual rationalisation of Joint Working Groups (JWGs) has happened over the past few years. JWGs, which are now service-specific, has identified around eight to ten projects each, which will be executed under the umbrella of DTTI. A process of dovetailing the products developed through DTTI in the India defence procurement process has also been formalised by the inclusion of two paragraphs (para 129 regarding co-development and para 130 co-production) in the draft Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
However, as per the draft DAP, ‘such cases will be progressed under an IGA/specific Project Agreement after clearance from the AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) according to authority based on the ultimate estimated cost of the project.’ Thus, the accord of AoN of the projects identified by the services will have to wait until the formal release of the DAP 2020, which is already overdue. These projects will therefore be ready for inclusion in the DTTI next year.
The projects under DTTI will be identified as the near, medium and long term projects. The near-term projects included so far areAir-launched Small Unmanned Systems, Light Weight Small Arms Technology and Intelligence-Surveillance-Targetting& Reconnaissance (ISTAR). The medium-term projects identified are Maritime Domain Awareness Solution and Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality for Aircraft Maintenance or VAMRAM. The two long term projects are Terrain Shaping Obstacle and Counter-UAS, Rocket, Artillery & Mortar (CURAM) system for the Indian Army. While the progress of these projects was supposed to have been monitored on a monthly basis, the ongoing pandemic is likely to have delayed their timely execution.
The industries on both sides are very enthusiastic about future projects under DTTI. Despite concerns on the availability of raw-material, transparency, funding, licencing, and scepticism on the transfer of technology, they look forward to co-developing large, complex, futuristic and meaningful projects together. The industries also look forward to getting ‘space’ and ‘cyber-security’ under the gamut of DTTI.
With the path having been paved for the projects under DTTI to flourish, it is time for execution. Both sides say they are committed to an ‘outcome-oriented’ DTTI that brings real results. Co-development and co-production of futuristic weapon platforms, that has not been envisaged so far, could take the bilateral relationship between US and India in defence to a new level of strategic cooperation.
(The author is Director for Aerospace and Defence, India, USISPF. Views expressed are personal.)