NRI Pulse

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Jet engine co-production, armed drones and tech rush in Modi-Biden talks

By Yashwant Raj

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden have announced a slew of defense and technology deals and initiatives that will give India the ability to co-produce jet engines, armed SeaGuardian drones, a semiconductor assembly and testing facility, and a shot at the Moon.

The two leaders “affirmed a vision of the United States and India as among the closest partners in the world – a partnership of democracies looking into the 21st century with hope, ambition, and confidence”, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting at the White House on Thursday.

Prime Minister Modi hailed the jet engine deal signed between GE and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) as a “landmark” and the Americans described it as both “groundbreaking” and “trailblazing”. GE will jointly manufacture F-414 engines in India with HAL for use in the next generation of Tejas fighter jets.

The deal “will enable greater transfer of US jet engine technology than ever before”, the two sides said in the joint statement and added: “The leaders committed their governments to working collaboratively and expeditiously to support the advancement of this unprecedented co-production and technology transfer proposal.”

The two leaders welcomed India’s plans to buy General Atomics’s armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs, which will be assembled in India. The drones will enhance the ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities of India’s armed forces across domains. General Atomics will also establish a Comprehensive Global MRO facility in India to support India’s long-term goals to boost indigenous defense capabilities, in a nod to the Prime Minister’s “Make in India” campaign.

Defense announcements also included the adoption of a Defense Industrial Cooperation Roadmap to provide policy direction to defense industries and enable co-production of advanced defense systems, and Master Ship Repairs Agreement with Indian shipyards for US navy ships to go for repairs.

Technology featured “very prominently” in the discussions between Modi and Biden, as Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said, and the joint statement clearly reflected it with at least 21 initiatives cutting across domains and sectors and spanning everything from technology transfer to technology trade, to trade in technology products, and technology services.

The joint statement listed out between 20 and 25 areas of new partnership or initiatives, including: $825 million investment by Micron Technology, Inc to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India; Lam Research proposing to train 60,000 Indian engineers; Applied Materials, Inc., to invest $400 million to establish a collaborative engineering center in India.

The joint statement noted India signing on to the Artemis Accords, a US-led agreement to set the norms for exploration and exploitation of the Moon, Mars and the potentially mineral-rich asteroids.

Announcing the deal at the joint press briefing, Modi said: “By taking the decision to join the Artemis Accords, we have taken a big leap forward in our space cooperation. In fact, in short, for India and America’s partnership, even the sky is not the limit.”

Space cooperation between two sides will include pursuing the “a goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024”. No further details were available of this initiative, though US space press speculated it could mean NASA assisting ISRO in putting an Indian astronaut on a private mission to the space station.

The two sides also launched Joint Task Forces on advanced telecommunications, focused on Open RAN and research and development in 5G/6G technologies, in pursuit of the two leaders’ vision of “creating secure and trusted telecommunications, resilient supply chains, and enabling global digital inclusion”.

The two sides announced the establishment of the Indo-US Quantum Coordination Mechanism to facilitate collaboration among industry, academia, and government, and work toward a comprehensive Quantum Information Science and Technology agreement.

The ongoing cooperation in research between the the US National Science Foundation and India’s Department of Science and Technology a new implementation agreement between them will enable them to fund both sides will fund joint projects in computer and information science and engineering, cyber physical systems, and secure and trustworthy cyberspace.

On clean energy, the two sides noted India’s VSK Energy LLC’s plan to invest up to $1.5 billion to develop a new, vertically integrated solar panel manufacturing operation in the US and India’s JSW Steel USA’s plans to invest $120 million at its Mingo Junction, Ohio, steel plant to better serve growing markets in the renewable energy and infrastructure sectors.

The two leaders also took stock of the ongoing discussions between US’s the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India, a byproduct of the 2008 India-US civil nuclear agreement. The leaders welcomed “intensified consultations” with Westinghouse to develop a techno-commercial offer for the Kovvada nuclear project.

The two leaders also took stock of global and regional developments. They expressed their “deep concern over the conflict” in Ukraine; underscored the need to reform and strengthen the multilateral systems such as the UN Security Council (India has staked a claim to a permanent membership of the expanded Security Council, and the US is backing it); recommitted themselves to empowering the Quad as a partnership for global good; reiterated their enduring commitment to a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous India-Pacific region with respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and international law; expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar; condemned the destabilising ballistic missile launches of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

Standing together against terrorism, the two leaders “reiterated the call for concerted action” against all UN-listed terrorist groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujhahideen,” the joint statement said, adding, “They called for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks to be brought to justice”.

Their discussions also covered trade and commerce and health. India restated its desire for the reinstatement of its special trading rights under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) under which some Indian goods could enter the US market at zero tariff. It was suspended in 2019 by President Donald Trump. The scheme stands lapsed currently — not just for India but all beneficiaries — and has to be renewed by US congress. The Biden administration has promised to review India’s case according to the eligibility criteria set by the Congress whenever it renews the scheme.

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