India’s pursuit of self-reliance in defence production has gained momentum in recent years, driven by its desire to reduce import dependency and strengthen its strategic autonomy. The country has been actively working to indigenize its military supplies and has released a fresh list of 928 components and subsystems that will only be procured from domestic firms, gradually phasing out imports over a five-and-a-half-year period.
India’s ambition to become a defence production hub could receive a significant boost if Prime Minister Modi secures a jet engine deal with the United States. The sharing of advanced defence technology has emerged as a new factor in India-US ties. The US, traditionally cautious about sharing defence technology, now sees India as an important partner, particularly in light of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and tensions with China. India is seeking critical defence and computing technology from the US, with a major interest being the domestic production of jet engines, specifically GE-F414 engines for India’s TEJAS MK-2 Light Combat Aircraft.
GE Aviation has expressed openness to transferring technology to India for the indigenous manufacture of engines. The Biden administration has approved GE Aviation’s application to co-produce GE-F414 jet engines in India, including technology transfer. However, the deal still needs to undergo Congressional review and approval under the Arms Export Control Act, which subjects the transfer of high-end defence technology to rigorous scrutiny.
Some members of Congress may have concerns about selling sensitive technology even to allies, including questions about India’s stance on the Ukraine conflict and its relationship with Russia. While acknowledging the risks, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized that the partnership with India is not motivated by the Ukraine war or efforts to drive a wedge between India and Russia.
Securing the GE jet engine deal would be significant for India, as it would place the country in an exclusive club of nations capable of producing jet engines indigenously, including the US, UK, France, and Russia. Importantly, this would give India a critical technological advantage over its rival, China, which does not manufacture its own jet engines.
The clearance for the co-production of GE engines in India would also contribute to India’s efforts to reduce its historic reliance on Russia for military hardware. This would align with American diplomacy in isolating Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Currently, India’s fighter fleet consists of a mix of Russian, European, and domestically produced jets, reflecting its position outside of the superpowers’ orbits.
The GE Aviation jet engine deal, if realized, could pave the way for a broader defence industrial partnership between India and the US, including the co-production of other major American weapon systems. This would significantly support India’s “Make in India” and “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) initiatives and enhance India’s defence capabilities vis-à-vis China.
PM Modi’s visit to the US on June 22 holds the potential for groundbreaking developments in India-US relations. The GE Aviation jet engine deal could mark the beginning of a new era of defence cooperation and propel India-US ties to a higher level, overcoming past mutual distrust.