India’s biennial military aircraft show, Aero India, went off without a hitch in early February in the southern Indian tech capital of Bengaluru. Despite the travails of pandemic-era traveling, the United States sent a deputy undersecretary, a Navy admiral, and three Air Force generals. It also sent a nuclear-capable B-1B bomber. But the real star of the show was what escorted the U.S. aircraft in the sky: an Indian-built Tejas fighter jet. With a name that means “radiant” in the ancient Sanskrit language, the Tejas is the first supersonic multirole fighter aircraft designed and built entirely in India.
How has a relatively poor country like India that is more famous for call centers than for precision manufacturing managed such a dramatic technological leap? In a word: cooperation. India is keen to build defense-industry partnerships with more advanced countries, and—even more importantly—advanced countries are keen to partner with India. Not only does it have one of the world’s largest military procurement budgets and a large pool of talented engineers, but India also has a strong tradition of rule of law that protects intellectual property and ensures the enforceability of contracts—in stark contrast to China, which is fast losing access to many advanced Western technologies. That makes India a better partner for international technology companies that it, for now, still depends on.