U.S.-India Defence Conclave: Navigating Geopolitical Shifts, Maritime Cooperation, And Technological Advancements

The Defence News Conclave served as a dynamic platform for exploring the multifaceted dimensions of the U.S.-India defence and security partnership. The event provided a comprehensive overview, ranging from historical perspectives on naval relations to contemporary discussions on cybersecurity, technology collaboration, and the role of startups in the defence industry.

Over the years, India has ascended as a pivotal global player, engaging in influential summits and forums like BRICS and G20. The nation’s alliance with the United States has transformed into a robust defence partnership, marked by strategic agreements, defence contracts, and joint military exercises. Amidst an assertive China in the Indo-Pacific, India and the U.S. collaborate to counterbalance, emphasizing a shared commitment to regional security. This strengthened alliance not only enhances India’s global defence standing but also exemplifies diplomatic finesse in navigating evolving geopolitical challenges, showcasing a resilient and adaptable approach to international relations in the 21st century.

On the 21st of November 2023, the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) took the helm in orchestrating the Defence News Conclave. Themed ‘Stories of U.S.-India Defence and Security Partnership’ with a pointed focus on ‘Deliverables to Deliveries,’ the event kicked off with keynote addresses. Rear Admiral Michael, a senior defence official and the U.S. Embassy’s defence attache in New Delhi set the tone for the conclave. He asserted that U.S.-India relations have reached an unparalleled zenith. Stressing the critical role of this alliance in establishing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, he delved into the myriad avenues for growth within the partnership. From ammunition and aircraft to underwater awareness technology and cybersecurity, Rear Admiral Michael painted a vivid picture of potential advancements on the horizon.

Vice Admiral Girish Luthara (Retd.), the former Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command, followed suit, adding depth and perspective to the discourse. Highlighting the depth of the U.S.-India alliance, Vice Admiral Luthara underscored its multifaceted nature. He delineated a partnership that transcends sectors, embraces a broad spectrum of activities, and spans various domains. According to him, this robust collaboration rests on three pivotal pillars: joint efforts on both local and global fronts within the Indo-Pacific region, cooperation among the armed forces of the United States and India, and the critical domains of defence technology, defence trade, and equipment systems. Emphasizing the symbiotic nature of this association, he stressed the imperative for India and the U.S. to join forces collaboratively.

The workshop unfolded through two insightful sessions, namely ‘U.S.-India Cooperation in Next-Level Warfare’ and ‘The Significance of U.S.-India Naval Collaboration.’

The initial session delved into the pivotal role of the U.S.-India defence partnership in shaping 21st-century modern warfare dynamics. It placed a spotlight on understanding the nuances of Hybrid warfare, a subset of statecraft that intricately weaves together diplomacy, information, military, and economic elements (DIME).

Retired Lt. Gen. Subrata Saha (Retd.) took the stage, shedding light on India’s ongoing grey zone war with China amidst the latter’s escalating influence in the Indo-Pacific region. He underscored the potential evolution of this grey zone conflict into a non-contact war, projecting its impact on countries’ space assets and the looming cyber threats. In a thought-provoking query, Lt. Gen. Saha questioned India’s preparedness to navigate such a scenario independently and prompted contemplation on whether any nation worldwide is equipped to handle it. This query emphasised the indispensable nature of the India-U.S. relationship. Lt. Gen. Subrata Saha highlighted the need for India to strengthen its international ties, advocating collaboration with like-minded nations to navigate contemporary geopolitical challenges effectively.

In his address, Lt. Gen. Sanjay Verma (Retd.) delved into crucial aspects of India’s security landscape. Notably, he highlighted the U.S. recognition of India’s capabilities in combating cybersecurity threats, underscoring the nation’s pivotal role in this domain. Lt. Gen. Verma advocated for a paradigm shift by suggesting the involvement of the private sector in India’s space endeavours, emphasizing its potential for exponential growth. Proposing a strategic realignment, he recommended allocating defence R&D budgets on a project or extended 5/10-year basis rather than an annual one. Moreover, Lt. Gen. Verma celebrated the thriving Indian private industry and its escalating innovation, particularly in software, projecting it as a driving force that could substantially enhance the collaborative ties between the U.S. and India.

Alaric Diniz, Partner in Aerospace and Defence at Deloitte India, articulated a strategic vision for India’s drive towards indigenisation, emphasizing the need for co-development, extending beyond manufacturing to include the design stage. Stressing the importance of self-sufficiency, he advocated for contingency plans to mitigate supply chain disruptions, citing the example of disruptions in Ukraine supplies. Expressing optimism, Diniz asserted that India is poised for takeoff.

Sandhya Sharma, Editor at ET Prime spoke of the trade and technology bridge, recent positive outcomes of the 2+2 dialogue and frequent visits by U.S. officials. Recognizing the evolving landscape, she underscored the necessity of adapting to new-age warfare and positioned India at the forefront in the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, she highlighted the geopolitical significance of dual technology in contemporary geopolitics. Sharma also spoke of how India needs to expand in terms of strategic technology and should collaborate with the U.S. on that front.

The second session of discussions brought into focus India’s National Security Apparatus, with a particular emphasis on Maritime Security along the Eastern Coast of Africa and the Arabian Sea. Additionally, the discourse delved into the Strategic Defense Partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region. Professor and Head of the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University, KP Vijayalakshmi, underscored the foundational principles of U.S.-India naval collaboration, highlighting the crucial role played by interdependence and interconnectedness. “The U.S. played a good and strategic bet on India”, she said.

Cmde. Srikant B. Kesnur (Retd.) provided a historical perspective on India-U.S. naval relations, emphasizing the transformative impact of the Indian Navy’s valour during the 2005 tsunami, which positively influenced the United States’ attitude. He highlighted recent milestones, including the Maritime Information Sharing Agreement, Indo-Pacific Agreement, and White Shipping Agreement, along with significant high-level interactions between the Indian and U.S. Navy. Cmde. Kesnur asserted that these collaborations have not only paved the way for geopolitical cooperation but have also identified specific areas of enhanced maritime partnership. Notably, he delineated two key areas – agreements and exchanges, and operational interaction – underscoring how tangible deliverables have evolved into concrete deliveries in the realm of maritime cooperation between India and the U.S.

Commander Mukesh Bhargava (Retd.) disclosed the anticipation of Indian corporates, including L&T, for co-development and co-production from the U.S. during 2015-18, a prospect that did not materialize at the time. Emphasizing the need for a paradigm shift, he articulated the imperative of transitioning from Government-to-Government (G2G) relations to fostering Business-to-Business (B2B) collaborations. In his address, he underscored the significance of ISR in military warfare, emphasizing the critical importance of accuracy, relevance, and timeliness in information. Stressing the pivotal role of timeliness, he highlighted it as the most crucial element in ISR operations. Delving into the U.S. context, he explored avenues for enhancing deliverables and deliveries. Notably, he discussed the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in ISR, citing its capacity to eliminate human errors and fortify border security and maritime compliance.

Captain Nikunj Parashar (Retd.), the founder of Sagar Defence Engineering Pvt. Ltd., highlighted three pivotal events that have proven advantageous to the startup industry. These include the renewal of the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership, the elevation of India to tier-I status for defence strategic supply by the U.S., and the notable selection of a few startups by U.S. officials this year, with Sagar Defence being among them. Parashar also shed light on the collaborative efforts of NewSpace Research & Technologies Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based startup engaged in a B2B collaboration with a U.S.-based lab for testing. He stressed the imperative for policy changes to foster and enhance the prospects of Indian startups in the evolving landscape.

Shrikant Paranjape, Honorary Adjunct Professor at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, provided a nuanced perspective on the geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. Addressing the South China Sea matter, he emphasized India’s limited role, primarily confined to utilizing trade routes, with minimal involvement in the Taiwan issue. Paranjape underscored that India’s concerns with China are predominantly bilateral and border-related, while other significant issues are more aligned with U.S. interests. Critically, he discussed India’s technological challenges, characterizing it as being caught in a technology trap and lagging. Shifting the focus to perceptions, Prof. Paranjape noted India’s transition from an ideological to a realist stance, which, despite being a significant shift, remains underrepresented in mass media. He advocated for a greater role of regional press in shaping narratives, asserting its potential to bring about substantial changes compared to English media, which often caters to Western perspectives.

The Defence News Conclave served as a dynamic platform for exploring the multifaceted dimensions of the U.S.-India defence and security partnership. The event provided a comprehensive overview, ranging from historical perspectives on naval relations to contemporary discussions on cybersecurity, technology collaboration, and the role of startups in the defence industry. The keynote addresses and insights from distinguished speakers underscored the depth and strategic significance of the alliance, particularly in the context of evolving geopolitical challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. The emphasis on co-development, maritime cooperation, and the transformative potential of emerging technologies like AI reflected a forward-looking approach. As India solidifies its position on the global stage, these dialogues contribute to the narrative of a resilient and adaptable partnership that navigates complexities with diplomatic finesse in the 21st century.