View from India: Technology ties to bind US partnership

India's prime minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden have chalked out significant initiatives that revolve around technology, clean energy and research, among other key takeaways. Apart from multi collaborations and diverse partnerships, could it open a new chapter in the country’s development and set new goals to achieve?

Technology could well play a defining role in deepening the India-US partnership. A number of collaborations support this view. A beginning may be the 'Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology' (iCET) that happened in January 2023. The strategic technology partnership involves both governments, businesses and academic institutions to realise their shared vision to take the alliance forward.

To that effect, policies and regulations could be adapted to facilitate technology sharing, co-development and co-production opportunities. Then, in June 2023, the 'Strategic Trade Dialogue' was flagged with the intent of enabling greater technology transfer between both nations. This was one of the many outcomes of Modi’s recent visit to the US at Biden's invitation. Both leaders have issued joint statements about forthcoming collaborations.

Chip shortage is a global issue, weighing down both the electronics and auto industries, stalling its progress and development. The 'Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership' could be seen as the need of the hour. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed to the effect of creating commercial opportunities, research, talent and skill development required for the semiconductor industry.

Such an announcement is an investment opportunity. Early birds are believed to be gainers. Well, let’s hope, as Micron Technology has announced to the media that it will invest up to $825m to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India. The combined investment valued at $2.75bn is projected to create up to 5,000 new direct and 15,000 community job opportunities in the next five years. A talent pool is required to make this a reality. That’s how Lam Research has proposed to train 60,000 Indian engineers through its 'Semiverse Solution' virtual fabrication platform to accelerate India’s semiconductor education and workforce development goals. Applied Materials plans to invest $400m to establish a collaborative engineering centre in India.  

Digital inclusion should be of global nature and this may be fulfilled through a resilient supply chain. This has led to the launch of two joint task forces that focus on advanced telecommunications, focused on Open RAN and research and the development in 5G/6G technologies. Public-private cooperation between vendors and operators will be led by India’s Bharat 6G Alliance and the US Next G Alliance.

Carbon emission is an undesired outcome of the transport sector. Hence the thrust is on the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and the development of biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuels. Regardless of geography, wherever you are, de-carbonising the planet is of paramount importance. Leaders from both nations have stated their intentions to develop and deploy energy storage technologies. This could be through the establishment of a new task force under the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership or SCEP. Being a low-carbon energy, nuclear power is suitable for the energy transition and for meeting energy security needs. Negotiations between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) could be welcome for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India. Such efforts could help India achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2070.

A lot is expected from the formal treaty, including that of Indo-Pacific trade relations. The 'Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative' will soon welcome the US. The Initiative, which began in 2015, aims to promote a safe, secure and stable maritime domain and promote its conservation and sustainable use. With the US' entry, both it and India will co-ordinate to promote regional coordination.

Innovation and research should have a purpose. They should fulfil societal needs. Understandably so. The National Science Foundation (NSF) of the U.S. and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in India have come together to fund joint research projects in computer and information science and engineering, cyber physical systems, and secure and trustworthy cyber space. Recently, Nandan Nilekani was in the news after donating 315 crores rupees to IIT Bombay. A co-founder of Infosys, Nilekani is a product of that Mumbai university institution. Putting his previous philanthropic contributions together, he has now supported the institute to the tune of 400 crore rupees. This latest contribution could add to India’s pursuit of newer scientific research and innovation, for the benefit of society at large.

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