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India, U.S. sign accord on defence R&D

By Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI, MARCH 5. After years of preliminaries, India and the United States have laid the ground for concrete cooperation in the field of defence research and development (R&D) with the signing of an agreement ensuring secrecy of information gained about each other's technological developments. The two sides have also identified the field of life sciences as the first area of bilateral cooperation and plan to explore material technology as the next focus sector.

The identification of the two areas of possible cooperation in defence R&D comes a week after the two sides met secretly in Hyderabad to exchange views about missile defence technologies.

Collaboration in defence R&D will be facilitated by the signing of the master information exchange agreement on February 7 by the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, and the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. So far, the U.S. has signed the agreement in the South Asia region only with Singapore. A similar agreement was signed in the area of military operations before the two sides began conducting joint military exercises.

This detail was disclosed here today by the senior Pentagon official, Al Volkman, who headed the U.S. delegation in two days of talks with his counterparts from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the aegis of the Joint Technical Group (JTG).

The areas of life science and materials research were identified at the sixth JTG meeting which ended today. Set up in 1994, the JTG is the bilateral forum at which India and the U.S. discuss collaborative opportunities for military-related R&D.

The plenary JTG meeting opted for life science as the first area for joint R&D as it was felt that both countries had developed capabilities in this area. In the next several months, they expect to enter into specific information exchange agreements. ``India has expertise in life science technology, especially in operations at high altitude and in extremely cold conditions. This should be a fruitful area ... . We will be looking at the Indian expertise in clothing for high altitude operations and nutritional aspects. There is an evolving need on the U.S. side for insight into this area,'' said Mr. Volkman.

The two sides also agreed to negotiate agreements in future that will go beyond exchange of information in those areas.

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