The meeting between National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and his US counterpart Jake Sullivan in Washington DC earlier this week was their first interaction under the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). This initiative had been announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden in May 2022 on the sidelines of the Quad summit in Tokyo. In the backdrop of China’s tech-driven expansionist ambitions, India and the US are keen to expand and strengthen their strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation. The White House statement has affirmed the two nations’ commitment to ‘fostering an open, accessible and secure technology ecosystem, based on mutual trust and confidence, that will reinforce our democratic values and institutions.’
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations are an integral part of defence preparedness in the 21st century. This underscores the need for India and America to fast-track the $3-billion MQ-9B predator-armed drone deal, which has been in the works for the past five years. These drones are expected to help New Delhi bolster its surveillance prowess along the Line of Actual Control and the Indian Ocean — two regions where China has been busy flexing its muscles in recent years.
The detection of a Chinese ‘surveillance’ balloon, spotted flying over US airspace days ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Beijing trip, implies that there is no room for laxity when national security is at stake, even as China has claimed that it was a civilian airship used for research purposes. Last year, India remained on its toes in the Indian Ocean due to the presence of Chinese ‘spy vessel’ Yuan Wang 5, which docked at a Chinese-owned port in Sri Lanka despite New Delhi’s objections. Close collaboration between India and US in fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum and telecom technologies, high-performance computing, co-production of jet engines, semiconductor supply chains and commercial space launches is a must to deepen defence ties. Such cooperation can give the two allies greater confidence to counter China, described by CIA Director William Burns as the ‘biggest geopolitical challenge’ that the US is facing.