Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the United States was historic for a number of reasons. Not only did the U.S. and India affirm themselves as being “among the closest partners in the world,” but a number of landmark technology-related deals were announced through their joint statement on June 22. The deals covered nearly all technological domains: cyberspace, space, quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and more.
This partnership did not simply materialize overnight; it was an amalgamation of decades of growing technology collaboration between the two states. However, the number of deals signed and the intent behind them signal the beginning of a new chapter in the India-U.S. relationship. The nature of these deals largely focused on improving India’s indigenous technological capabilities, as well as its global stature.
Although not targeted directly toward Pakistan, the growing India-U.S. technology collaboration will certainly have a number of implications for India’s western neighbor, and will adversely affect South Asian strategic stability.
India-U.S. Technology Cooperation
During Modi’s visit, a number of landmark technology deals were announced between the United States and India, both in the civil and defense domains. These deals followed in the spirit of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) signed between the National Security Councils of both states in January 2023, which aims to “elevate and expand their strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation.”
Under the theme “powering a next generation defense partnership,” three major deals were announced. The first was an MoU signed between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the manufacture of GE F-414 jet engines in India, for the HAL Light Combat Aircraft Mk 2. Second, an estimated $3 billion deal was announced for India to procure General Atomics MQ-9B High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which would also be assembled in India. Third, and perhaps most significant, was the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X), which would facilitate joint defense technology innovation, and co-production of advanced defense technology between the respective industries of the two countries.
Besides these defense deals, India-U.S. technology cooperation in the civil domain was also significant, with most of these deals also having dual-use prospects. In terms of U.S.-India space cooperation, both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) agreed to develop a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by 2023. India also joined the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, through which the United States hopes to explore the moon and beyond. An MoU was also signed on the Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership, through which Micron Technology, Inc. agreed to invest up to $825 million to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India. Several other deals were signed as well, ranging from AI to quantum technology, cyberspace, and more.
Overall, the India-U.S. growing technology collaboration paints a clear picture of the future of bilateral relations. With the United States seeing India as a counterweight to China, while simultaneously aiming to decouple from China, U.S. investment in India’s indigenous technological capabilities will only grow. These technology deals also give a clear indication of how the U.S. now views India, as an irreplaceable strategic partner, from the “seas to the stars.”
Implications for Pakistan and Recommendations
It is pertinent to note that the technology cooperation taking place between the United States and India is targeted at China. However, it will have implications for Pakistan considering the tense history of both countries, and the conventional as well as technological disparity between India and Pakistan. In this context, the transfer of cutting-edge technologies will not only threaten the national security of Pakistan but also destabilize the already volatile South Asian region.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, responding to the media queries on India-U.S. joint statement, stated: “Pakistan is also deeply concerned over the planned transfer of advanced military technologies to India. Such steps are accentuating military imbalance in the region and undermining strategic stability. They remain unhelpful in achieving the objective of a durable peace in South Asia.”
The proponents of the Revolution in Military Affairs argue that the risk of escalation is manageable due to technology. Likewise, in the case of the U.S. transfers of cutting-edge technology to India, New Delhi is likely to believe that its risk is manageable. Keeping this in view, India might develop a false sense of security and go for another Balakot-type incident, sowing the seeds of conflict in the region.
Although the primary objective of this technology collaboration is to equip India to act as a counterweight to China, in the past India has been aggressive in its dealings with Pakistan. With the technology transfer bolstering India’s capabilities, this assertiveness might further increase. This could potentially include deployment of MQ-9B drones. Washington likely envisioned the drones would be used in India’s efforts to push back against China on their disputed border. However, media reports suggest that India will deploy the newly purchased U.S. Predator drones in areas near Pakistan as well.
Similarly, it is likely that New Delhi will direct other military procurements toward Pakistan. Thus the U.S. transfer of technology is likely to initiate an arms race in South Asia, ultimately compelling Pakistan to maintain balance vis-à-vis India. This collaboration will further burden Pakistan’s already struggling economy.
Apart from this, the India-U.S. joint statement also mentioned terrorism, with specific reference to Pakistan. This signals that the United States is likely to shift its policy from mediation to ensure stability toward supporting New Delhi in times of crisis in future. This development might have an impact on future mediation efforts of the United States in managing escalation in South Asia, making the region more volatile.
Keeping in view the evolving situation, it is important that India and Pakistan work toward establishing confidence-building measures. Pakistan has already taken a positive step, as its foreign minister visited India for the first time in 12 years to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in early May. Establishing confidence-building measures between both states would ultimately lead to a decrease in the likelihood of conflict escalation.
It is also important that major powers like the United States should keep a balanced approach toward mediation, keeping in view the regional dynamics.
Finally, although Pakistan is not presently in the ideal position to indulge in an unwanted arms race, it is still important to initiate investment in the technological domain in order to close the gap with India. Since most of the technologies being pursued in contemporary times are dual-use, it will be appropriate for Pakistan to invest in such technologies to reap the benefits in both the civil as well as military domains. For now, it is important for Pakistan to focus on developing conventional counter-tactics to be better prepared for emerging threats emanating from India.