Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Bridging The Technology Gap: The Future Of US-India Defence Cooperation Amid Growing PLA Threats

By Staff Correspondent

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent state visit to Washington marked a pivotal moment in United States-India defence relations. The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced significant strides in the partnership, suggesting that projects once considered impossible are now underway. “The world’s largest democracies are home to some of the most innovative workers and companies. Consequently, this partnership is the next logical step in our relationship, strategically leveraging these technologies for security,” a senior DoD official had said during the press briefing.

The Evolution Of US-India Defence Partnership

Over the past two decades, US-India defence collaboration has grown immensely. While there were no US defence sales to India twenty years ago, the countries are co-developing and co-producing many significant systems today. India’s active involvement in annual US-led regional air and maritime exercises and participation in working groups focused on cyberspace, critical technologies, and maritime security further emphasises its growing international role. The country’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific QUAD, a strategic security dialogue with Australia, India, Japan, and the US, indicates a willingness to cooperate with the US in upholding a free, open, and rules-based global order.

INDUS X Initiative: Fostering Greater Collaboration

To foster greater collaboration between US and Indian stakeholders, the newly introduced INDUS X initiative aims to involve research and academic institutions, industries, small startups, and investors. INDUS X’s mission is to expedite the deployment of commercial technologies with military applications. The initiative intends to simplify processes for startups to transition into defence sectors and secure necessary capital.

“INDUS X has the potential to be a catalyst for India to achieve its target of $5 billion in defence exports by 2025 while also diversifying its defence supply chain,” the official said. The initiative plans to host a defence exhibition highlighting technologies that could enhance border security, maritime domain awareness (MDA), and space situational awareness (SSA), thereby contributing to a more secure Indo-Pacific region.

Addressing the Technology Gap With China’s PLA

Despite these advancements, voices within India’s defence establishment acknowledge a 30-year technology gap with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The persistent disparity in military technology between the two nations remains a concern, despite India’s efforts for peace and cooperation, as seen in the 2018 Wuhan informal summit.

The US seeks to support India in countering the PLA’s technological superiority, considering India’s strategic geographical location and substantial military size. However, the complexities involved, such as India’s hesitation towards military conflict with China and the PLA’s technological edge, underscore the need for the Indian military to understand and bridge this technology gap.

Looking Ahead: India’s Technological Priorities & Challenges

In response to warfare becoming increasingly reliant on information and intelligence, experts believe India should prioritise developing capabilities in virtual domains. It is crucial to understand the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making and weapon platforms and foster a military leadership cognizant of warfare advances. Despite challenges, the defence establishment remains steadfast in analysing these developments and seeking long-term strategies to confront the PLA. The growing US-India defence partnership stands as a testament to both countries’ shared bilateral vision.

India’s Need For Advanced US Technologies

“India urgently needs advanced technologies from the US to address the acknowledged 30-year technology gap between the Indian military and the PLA. While the 2018 Wuhan informal summit reflected India’s commitment to peace and cooperation with China, the underlying military technology discrepancy remains unaddressed,” a highly placed source highlighted. “The US intends to incorporate India and other allies into its Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) defence networks to enhance its deterrent capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. This strategic move is crucial given the PLA’s advancement in hypersonic missile technology,” another source explained.

Challenges Ahead: Navigating the Technological Landscape

The Pentagon’s proposed 40% budget increase for its Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) seeks to counter the PLA’s Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) firewall, consisting of various technologies like land-based missiles, integrated air and missile defence systems, cyber and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, and anti-drone abilities. “Yet, supporting India in countering the PLA poses unique challenges. The Indian military must not only comprehend the extent of the technology gap but also update its military strategy, currently based on the 1986 US Air Land battle war concept, deemed antiquated by some in the defence sector,” noted defence analyst Col. Vinay B Dalvi (r).

The PLA’s integration of AI into its war readiness and decision-making processes underscores the critical role of advanced technology in modern warfare. Several analysts stressed that India must prioritise developing capabilities in virtual domains, including land-based missiles (cruise and hypersonic), and cultivate a military leadership informed about warfare advances. As warfare shifts towards incorporating AI, data, 5G wireless networks, and cloud computing into a unified strike package, the Indian military must adapt accordingly. The level of support the US can provide to the Indian Armed Forces, given these shifts, remains uncertain, but the defence establishment remains committed to finding long-term strategies to confront the challenges posed by the PLA.

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