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'U.S keen to build fighter jets in India'

:Frank Kendall, US Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, technology and Logistics in New Delhi. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There seem to be issues with the initial path finder projects between the two countries, agreed to under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). Can you give an overview of the progress so far?

There are no issues with the ongoing projects. The two cooperative agreements were signed six months ago and they are progressing well-- mobile hybrid power source and protective ensemble. The other major activities are on the two working groups one for aircraft carrier cooperation which is moving very well. The jet engine working group has also recently done a trip to India and we are looking at some opportunities for cooperative development on jet engines. That is not as far long as the cooperation on carrier work is but is making good progress too. One of the things that falls under DTTI is technology cooperation. We have four more I think that we are close to agree to. Each side has put certain things on the table for consideration by the other and I will be going to India in few weeks and we will see if we can make some progress on the initial ones.

There are about 17 projects we are considering and I think both sides looking for something significant we can do together now that we have made significant progress in kind of building relationships and establishing initial projects. I think what we are all looking for is to scale the work up. Now if we do substantial cooperative work on aircraft carrier side I think that might fit the requirement. I think there is a possibility on the jet engine side as well that we are looking at. I think what we are looking is the future plans for the two militaries and see where opportunities might exist to do some things together. We both have interest in some common kind of capabilities. But I am really encouraged that DTTI has moved forward a lot during the last two years under the Modi administration and I am looking forward to additional progress. Our next formal meeting will be this summer but we are not waiting for that, we are trying to move things forward.

You talked about cooperation in UAVs. India has for some time expressed interest in procuring armed drones. Do you see any movement on that front?

Armed drones are a problem just because technology transfer is an issue. I don’t think we are doing armed drones any time soon or a specific program to develop one soon. We have pretty good capability there but there are issues. But we are working on UAV technologies like sensor technologies.

In the context of the high technology projects that are in the pipeline how important are the three foundational agreements?

I do not think they are essential but they would be helpful. The three agreements -- Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) -- I don’t think that they are standing in the way of cooperation on DTTI but I think they will create an environment which will facilitate cooperation in general. Our relationship with India carries a lot of things besides DTTI. We have a lot of exercises we do together, we have lot of military to military contact. We are looking at acquisition training for management that is one of the things we are talking under DTTI. So it is a much bigger and broader relationship than technology transfer and technology trade certainly. The agreements we are talking about cover other aspects for the most part.

Is there a possibility of F-16 fighters rolling out of a production line in India?

We are talking about of this and it is not clear that it will be under DTTI. India has a requirement for additional fighters and both F-16 and F-18 are possibilities for that. We have cleared some information to be provided to India from Lockheed and Boeing on what they might offer. I think both of them have some strong Make in India components in what they are proposing. We are aware of the discussions and facilitating them so much as we can. The Indian government has not made a decision yet. At this point it is not part of DTTI but if India takes a decision to go with one of those we could include it under DTTI.

What are the new areas you are exploring for co-development and co-production?

The fighter possibilities I think pretty good. What is needed to move forward is agreement that we have a programme of some kind, we both have a shared requirement. I was hoping at one time that out new jet trainer for the Air Force would be a possibility. But the timing was not accurate. We are starting a program shortly but India is in the middle of producing an aircraft perhaps so it did not work out. I am looking for other things like that with a year or two lead time before we start working a contract and so on.

Finding something like that is largely the target of opportunity. There may be cases where we would like to do something but we don’t have adequate budget to do it. India would like to do it, they don’t have adequate budget to do it. But together we could afford it. That would be almost an ideal win-win but I have not identified a program like that yet.

Any projects under consideration?

No, there are possibilities in the area of say ground vehicles, would be one I would look at. The US Army does not have a new program for ground vehicles but is working on new technologies for them. I know India is looking at a program there. That’s one area I would be interested in discussing. Again a lot of parties would have to come together to make that happen. The Army would have to decide to do it, add resources for that, shift resources for that, and we have to align schedules. I am giving you a sense I hope of the difficulty of getting to a program of mutual interest in doing something and our budgets can align and our requirements can align. We need to get all the pieces together to get to that kind of a program. That is what we would like to do with India under DTTI.

In the four earlier projects under DTTI, two projects failed to make progress. What are the reasons?

The industry projects-- interesting lesson we learnt on that. We were trying to facilitate industry to industry cooperation. Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was one of those and C-130 roll-on, roll-off kits was the other. Those have not made a lot of progress. I think there is still a chance that the Raven/Cheel UAV might be required in India. Those were cases where our government wasn’t planning to buy the product and we were facilitating industry to industry cooperation and we are still happy to do that but I think it is hard to move those forward when there is no government commitment. India took a look at both of them, they still looking at a UAV, they are competing for a small tactical UAV. They did not have a requirement for the roll-on, roll-off modules we are talking about. I would say those are the ones not moving forward at this time in time. But it taught us about the kind of things we should try and do under DTTI. We may try to still facilitate some industry to industry things but I am probably less optimistic on them simply because of our experience with these two. It is easier to get commitments on the government to government things than on the industry to industry things. There has to be a business case for the industry to industry things.

Anything we do we are very understanding of India’s desire of Make in India and technology transfer. So we will work on aspects of that to make sure we met the objectives.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 10:35:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/interview-with-us-under-secretary-of-defence-for-acquisition-technology-and-logistics-frank-kendall/article8462173.ece

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