As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his visit to New Delhi next week to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defense officials from both sides have been rushing to finalize the components of what could amount to a much-needed boost in this dimension of the U.S.-India relationship.
As is often the case, much of the attention ahead of the visit has been focused on potential defense deals that make for good headlines. While there has been no shortage of such billion-dollar arrangements – including ones for Chinook and Apache helicopters – they may or may not be announced as part of Obama’s trip.
Irrespective of the outcome, that should not detract from the significant progress that both sides have made on this score over the last few years. By some estimates, India has ordered around $10 billion worth of U.S. weapons in the past decade, with at least about $7 billion more reportedly in the pipeline. With this recent surge in weapons sales, the United States emerged as India’s biggest arms supplier in 2013, displacing Russia which has traditionally been New Delhi’s preferred choice.
Other issues loom larger beyond headline-making deals. In particular, the clock is ticking for both sides to renew their ten-year defense framework, which expires this year. The original New Framework Defense Agreement, inked in 2005 under George W. Bush, established the general architecture of the relationship: laying out four mutual interests, thirteen areas of cooperation and several potential bodies to guide defense ties going forward. The hope is that a new framework will be more in the weeds, with mechanisms to measure progress or at least fresh initiatives to deepen cooperation in some of these areas.
More specifically, Washington and New Delhi will also try to reinvigorate efforts to boost defense trade and technology through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). DTTI, unveiled to great fanfare in 2012, was designed to help both sides advance projects for co-production and co-development. But U.S-India watchers know that the rather stodgy name itself is a compromise between Washington’s prioritization of trade issues and India’s focus on technology transfer to build an indigenous defense industry. That has led to a disagreement over which initiatives to advance. Not a single one of the 17 reported projects proposed by Washington has been approved in the last two years. New Delhi has floated several of its own.