From defence to development, technology to lead India-US partnership

The spectacular success of the incredibly frugal Mars Orbiter Mission that put India straight into an elite club and opened up an array of business opportunities has created the right atmospherics for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US during which he would engage with the civil society, policy makers and the business community. And in almost all of these, one subject that would be the talking point would be technology.

Both the countries are expected to ink an agreement on launching a joint radar satellite mission among other initiatives related to energy, manufacturing, health and education, opening up new opportunities for partnership.

The tech-savvy prime minister himself set the tone ahead of his interactions, saying the US "continues to inspire India" in education and innovation, and he strongly believes in the possibilities of technology to transform governance and empower people in India.

And the reasons are not far to seek. The world has been going though the "Third Wave" of industrial revolution, a radical shift to a knowledge-based society in which revolutionary technologies in several fields are creating newer production techniques and products. Economies around the world are being structured around the computer and other high-tech industries.

Also, the growth of the high-tech industries has demolished the old assumption that comparative advantage is a gift of nature which cannot be changed by government policies. The experience of the US defence-related industries, Japan and South Korea have shown that in many sectors comparative advantage to a considerable degree is a product of deliberate policy choices by national governments. And the fact that comparative advantage at least to some extent and under certain conditions can be created has encouraged governments to intervene in the market and pursue sector specific policies.

At the same time, international competition in technology is intensifying. The outcome of this competition is going to determine which countries would be dominant global players in the years ahead. It is in this context that transfer of technology as well as exchange of it among nations have become an instruments of foreign policy.

For India, technology would play a critical role in shaping its power -- hard and soft. The significance of the bilateral exchange this week has to be seen in this strategic context.

Modi came to power on agenda of development, for which technology, investment and market are essential. His 'Make in India' initiative also aims at identifying select domestic companies having leadership in innovation and new technology and turning them into global champions.

And there is a new synergy in perception, a convergence of interests of the two sides that has been discerned in recent months. For India, the US, the world's largest and its biggest innovation economy, remains the prime source of all the three ingredients for economic success. The Americans believe that India can achieve rapid growth through innovation if it opens up its economy to foreign technologies. State Department point-person Nisha Desai Biswal says that the US has "cutting-edge" technology to offer.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who last month visited India for preparatory talks for the visit, said both countries are working together to advance the joint cooperative science and technology priorities, that includes areas "ranging from big data to cognitive sciences to chemical and biological defence, and material sciences".

Both India and the US believe that science, technology, and innovation are key tools that will help address global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, food, water and energy security. Both countries are building public-private partnerships that promote science and technology-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Among the new initiative is a Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental and Occupational Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services and India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are finalizing. The MOU would develop further cooperation in research, education and training, and capacity-building in a number of focus areas, including public health aspects of household and ambient air pollution, water quality and access, exposures to hazardous substances and strengthening of laboratory capacity.

Both countries are also working toward signing two project annexes under a US Department of Energy and India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) agreement on high-energy physics cooperation. The project annexes aim to facilitate and promote cooperation on Accelerator Research and Development and related sciences to further understanding of fundamental physics.

NASA and ISRO are also planning future missions to moon and other destinations.

The prime minister's talks are taking place just a month ahead of the India-US Technology Summit in New Delhi under the theme "Tackling 21st Century Challenges Together". The summit Nov 18-19 will include participation from several companies, academic institutions, and scientists, and will help build productive partnerships in joint research and development, technology commercialization, and joint business ventures designed to promote trade and investment between the two countries.

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