WASHINGTON: You just met me, and this is crazy, but my address is Ashton.Carter@sd.mil, so email me maybe. That, in essence, was Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter‘s response this morning when asked how US defense firms could get Pentagon help exporting weapons and related products to the notoriously opaque and bureaucratic Indian government, which Washington has been assiduously wooing.
“It is frustrating,” Cart acknowledged this morning at the liberal Center for American Progress. “Those of you who are doing business there, I encourage you to be in touch with us, directly in touch with me,” Carter told the audience. “I’ll work these problems. None of these things is too small.”
“Don’t get frustrated,” he urged industry, after repeatedly emphasizing that “the US and India are destined to be partners” because of their common democratic values. “We have got history on our side,” Carter said, “and what we have to do is remove of some of these picayune obstacles.”
But US keeps making proposals to co-produce or even co-develop weapons systems in India, and the Indians are so far sitting on them, I said skeptically when the floor opened for questions and answers.
Not so, insisted Carter, who was just in New Delhi two weeks ago. “On this trip I put forward quite a large number of them. I’m not prepared to say what they are, because I want my Indian colleagues to have a chance to take look at them.” One proposal he has made public was for the US and India to co-develop the next generation of the Javelin anti-tank missile, but Carter made clear there are many more offers that have flown under the radar.
“It is not true that they turned down proposals,” he continued. “There are a large number of things that they’re sifting through. It is true that there’s a lot of bureaucracy on both sides.” (Especially, he failed to add, on the Indian side).
“Now it’s in India’s court,” Carter said. As for the specific co-production proposals the US made eight months ago — for maritime helicopters, warship cannon, anti-tank mines, and missiles — he said that “I don’t want to get into things that violate their confidence, but I think they are giving very serious consideration to some of the proposals that we have put forward last year. These are things where they have to consider whether they met their military requirements and whether they have the budget to pay for it, so it takes a little time for them to figure that out. But they haven’t turned it down.”
(Note that none of this refutes the proposition that India hasn’t said yes to anything yet. Indeed, given a democracy and a bureaucracy even more cumbersome than ours, New Delhi’s unlikely to give a definite answer any time soon. They still are showing uncertainty about actually signing the contract to buy French Rafale fighters that they officially selected for their air force a year and a half ago).
Carter laid out a host of steps the US government is taking — with himself at the helm — to ease defense trade and technology transfer between the US and India. In the eight short years since the US and India signed their 2005 defense cooperation agreement, he said, there’s been great progress both on arms sales, such as C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, and on military exercises, such as the annual wargames off the Malabar Islands. Admittedly, this is progress from a very low base, the US having imposed sanctions on India for its 1998 nuclear test that cut arms sales to zero.
The Obama administration is working on an overhaul of the entire export control system, which is painfully slow and occasionally arbitrary. (“The export control system is the most important and serious really boring subject one can possibly talk about,” he said).
But for New Delhi specifically, “we have demonstrated repeatedly that we can release sensitive technologies to India,” Carter said. “Recognizing there will always be some technologies we will keep to ourselves, we changed our culture regarding transfer to India in the Department of Defense from a culture of a presumptive ‘no’ to a culture of a presumptive ‘yes.’”
To help the US-India arms trade, said Carter, Defense, State, and Commerce are working to streamline export control rules, end-use monitoring (i.e. making sure the weapons aren’t resold to bad guys), and developing proposals for co-production and co-development. The US has added India to the so-called “Group of Eight” countries that get special treatment for export licenses under the Strategic Trade Authorization system.
Where once companies doing US-India defense deals had to sign the contract before the government would rule on whether the technology transfers involved were legal — a “Catch-22,” Carter said — the government is now offering legally non-binding “advisory opinions” to companies while they’r still finalizing the contract. The US is also pre-vetting US proposals to compete in Indian competitions even before the New Delhi issues an official request for proposals (RFP). Overall, Carter said, “[we're] trying to better anticipate Indian requirements and streamlining our licensing processes [to] make us competitive for every sale.”
Finally, the US is providing financial incentives for US researchers seeking Indian partners for science and technology products, Carter said: “This is an approach we’ve only ever taken with the United Kingdom and Australia.”
Meanwhile, as the US government is removing the strings it historically attaches to defense exports, Washington is also lobbying New Delhi to loosen its restrictions on imports, such as local co-production and offset requirements.
“It’s hard work,” Carter summed up, “and you’ve probably glazed your eyes over with some of that export control stuff — it’s incredibly tedious. [But] what keeps us all going… is the destiny that I talked about.”