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What the US National Defense Industrial Strategy Means for the Indo-Pacific 

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What the US National Defense Industrial Strategy Means for the Indo-Pacific 

For major stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific, including India, the priorities set out by the NDIS merit close examination.

What the US National Defense Industrial Strategy Means for the Indo-Pacific 

From left to right: Chief of Staff of the India Army Gen. Manoj Pande, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George, and Joint Task Force – National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington Commanding General Maj. Gen. Trevor J. Bredenkamp, walk through the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 13, 2023.

Credit: U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

In a first of its kind, the U.S. Department of Defense released a National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS) complimenting the priorities of the U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS). Both the strategy documents reflect the geopolitical environment unfolding in the Indo-Pacific, and the threats that the United States perceives primarily from the coercive and assertive actions of the People’s Republic of China.

Irrespective of leadership changes in Washington, the national security perspective in the country has continually seen China’s military and technological rise as the most prominent strategic challenge to the United States. What the NDIS has to say is critical for major stakeholders given the uncertain power balance in the Indo-Pacific, plus the role that the rise of new technologies and new partnerships will play in how the deployment of U.S. power pans out in the region. 

Into an Era of Multi-Use Technologies

The advent of dual use technologies that have both civilian and military applications has driven discourse on technologies throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries. From nuclear to outer space and new age cyber technologies, exploiting technological breakthroughs and treading the blurring line between war and peace has had an overwhelming impact on inter-state relations and rivalries.

The U.S. national security and defense strategies in general and the NDIS in particular acknowledge the tectonic shift that technologies are undergoing. With artificial intelligence exponentially growing in its ability to mimic and replicate human actions, the complexity is growing manifold. This is taking military competition in the Indo-Pacific into an era of multi-use technologies, whose applications and implications will go far beyond intended goals. To what extent the United States can shape this future to gain competitive advantage along with allies and partners vis-à-vis adversaries remains the drive for building a modern defense industrial ecosystem. 

As the NDIS contends, the U.S. Department of Defense “needs to move aggressively toward innovative, next-generation capabilities while continuing to upgrade and produce, in significant volumes, conventional weapons systems already in the force.” Emerging areas of competition including “autonomous systems, quantum technology, artificial intelligence, and advanced materials” will be the focus, and a growing acknowledgement that technological breakthroughs will equally come from the commercial sector, and not just from government research and funding is a pervasive factor. The NDIS argues that the U.S. Defense Department “currently underutilizes innovations and advancements originally developed for non-military purposes that could be quickly and cost effectively adapted for military use.”

Integrated Deterrence: Reassuring Allies and Partners

The economic, political, and military balance that was heavily tilted toward the United States and its allies in the post-Cold War era has been rapidly shifting to a much more complex environment. The lines between friends and enemies are not so clear, as in the bipolar Cold War. Therefore, building deterrence and war fighting capabilities for this new era is equally complicated, and it is not a task that the United States is truly experienced in accomplishing. 

For Washington, China is clearly the primary challenger. Russia is a resurgent military threat, and countries like Iran or North Korea pose clear and present dangers, too. However, many U.S. Indo-Pacific partners, including India, may not exactly share the same threat perceptions, and even if they do in some cases, the preferred ways to deal with these issues may not perfectly align. The new U.S. concept of integrated deterrence aims to keep this element in sight, while upgrading all aspects of defense capabilities. Integrated deterrence “entails working seamlessly across warfighting domains, theaters, the spectrum of conflict, all instruments of U.S. national power, and our network of Alliances and partnerships,” according to the U.S. National Defense Strategy

Against that backdrop, the question of the United States’ overall production capacity in the defense sector looms large. Maintaining resilient supply chains in the face of crises across the Indo-Pacific and other geopolitical theaters is a point of concern for all major stakeholders. The NDIS is ringing alarm bells on the state of the United States’ comprehensive defense requirements from frontline equipment to support systems and enablers. Is the U.S. defense industrial ecosystem struggling to keep pace with evolving threats, rapid advances in multi-use technologies, and active competitors like China? What is the role of public-private partnership and alignment with the defense industrial bases of allies and partners in the international system? How does the United States intend to incorporate allies and partners in defense planning and production, and how will technology-sharing feature in such engagements? 

As Washington reshapes the strengthening and deployment of its military power in an uncertain security environment of new adversaries, old allies, and new partners in the Indo-Pacific, complex questions and answers await its national security, foreign policy and defense planners. For major stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region, including New Delhi, the priorities set out by the NDIS merit acute attention. India and the United States have already signed four foundational agreements, and the projected intention on both sides is to leverage the strong strategic convergence for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific for a burgeoning military-to-military interoperability

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department “made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of India of MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.99 billion.” The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) had delivered the required certification notifying the U.S. Congress of the possible sale. The press release from DSCA contended that the “proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defense partner” in the Indo-Pacific region. 

More recently, the Indian Army chief made an extensive visit to the United States, holding high-level professional discussions with his counterparts. The move to go beyond buying and selling of defense equipment to co-development and co-production has started to “walk the talk.” Initiatives in areas such as outer space and artificial intelligence show that both countries are ready to jointly leverage the potential, and create synergies unlike anything seen before, involving private sector entrepreneurial spirit. With growing business and strategic alignment between the defense industrial conclaves of the two countries, it is imperative to debate and deliberate on the short-, medium-, and long-term consequences of the U.S. National Defense Strategy and the National Defense Industrial Strategy.