New Delhi

India-United States Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS X) was launched on Wednesday in Washington to expand the strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the two governments, business communities, and academic institutions.

The move is a build on a commitment by the Indian and the United States National Security Advisors in January 2023 to launch an “innovation bridge” to connect both the countries’ defense start-ups as part of the joint initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET).

Anurag Bajpai, the Joint Secretary (DIP) in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in his welcome remarks on ‘Investing in the Future of US-Indian Defence Relations’, hailed the launch of the iCET as a landmark event in the India-US relationship, and stated that it was an opportune moment as the leaders of the two largest and oldest democracies of the world meet in Washington, said the MoD in an official statement.

‘Exponential growth’

Frank Kendall, US Secretary of the Air Force, gave the opening keynote address. The MoD quoted him as saying that the India-US relationship is growing exponentially and emphasised the enormous potential for start-ups of both nations to collaborate in deep tech innovations, especially in space and artificial intelligence (AI) domains.

The event also saw a first-of-its-kind joint showcasing innovative technologies by start-ups of both countries. Fifteen Indian start-ups and 10 US start-ups, from multiple domains of maritime, AI, autonomous systems, and space, showcased their technologies to stakeholders from both sides.

The exhibition was visited by senior US officials, including Congressman Ro Khanna, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and by Radha Iyengar Plumb, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, US Department of Defence, stated the Ministry.

At the event, a factsheet was also released outlining the collaboration agenda for INDUS-X stakeholders across two broad themes of ‘Bilateral Cooperation Mechanism, and Public-Private Partnerships’.

To strengthen bilateral cooperation, an advisory oversight has been suggested. In that, a Senior Advisor Group (SAG) will assess the progress of the collaboration agenda and make recommendations to the defense establishments and other INDUS-X stakeholders for future work.

USIP, Carnegie India, and the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM) will convene roundtables of INDUS-X stakeholders at the working level to drive synergistic implementation of the collaboration agenda and identify any barriers to implementation for the SAG to consider, the MoD pointed out.

Perhaps, one of the most important understandings reached that would facilitate business is easing regulations for cross-border development and trade. According to the MoD, the SAG will recommend adjustments to respective regulatory schemes (e.g., DFARS, ITAR, EAR, Make in India) to streamline start-up innovation between the two countries and increase procurement opportunities.

It has also been agreed upon the need to standardise Indo-US certifications for technologies developed by the defense innovation ecosystems of both countries, accelerating their absorption.

Mentor-Protégé Partnerships

Similarly, “Mentor-Protégé Partnerships for Startups” has also been suggested. Both the countries defense firms will identify opportunities to establish formal and informal mentoring with start-ups to assist with market access, business strategy, and technology know-how, elaborated the MoD.

Defense firms of both sides may explore options for supply chain collaborations with start-ups, it was agreed as per the MoD.

On the academic partnership, Pennsylvania State University, Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Madras, and IIT Kanpur have expressed their intent to lead best practice workshops with Indian and American universities and accelerator partners, such as labs, technology hub (T-HUB), IITs, and Hacking for India, to exchange best practices in defense innovation, fielding, and commercialisation, stated the Ministry.

On the public-private partnership, the DoD and the MoD, in collaboration with external stakeholders, will explore joint challenges for US and Indian start-ups that leverage common dual-use cases for both countries.

Both countries will explore pathways for start-ups to access each other’s respective research and development (R&D) centers and innovation labs to support start-up collaboration.