India in semiconductor race

The Lower Trenton Bridge in New Jersey often displays a neon sign with the message: ‘Trenton Makes, The World Takes.’ That summarizes every burgeoning economy’s lofty vision to be on top of the world. Given this, it would be surprising if the most populous nation on earth and member of the top five economy, India did not join the race. Long before its moon landing, India has aspired to be a leader in the global semiconductor industry. In that journey, May 24, 2022 could be called a golden moment of India’s semiconductor industry as the United States and India announced an initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). The vision of the initiative is to elevate and expand ‘strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions of our two countries’ as per the White House fact sheet. In late February 2024, Narendra Modi okayed a $15 billion chip plant investment, a milestone in India’s vision of joining the elite level of large-scale semiconductor producers. Moving forward, the partnership of Powerchip Semiconductor (PSMC) of Tawian and Tata Electronics of India is looking forward to producing 50,000 wafers per month, thanks to this big investment.

The semiconductor industry is at the heart of the next decades’ global power dynamics. This industry’s critical role spans every industry, from consumer electronics to military applications. No wonder why China is trying to outrace, with $47 billion investment since 2014, competitors and achieve self-sufficiency. China’s quest for outpacing others in semiconductors is rooted in its Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy as it wants to be the most advanced military in the world by 2049. Being the next-door neighbor, India has much to worry about that quest while it seeks to leverage the iCET and see US companies further expand their investments in India. Tech giant Apple is targeting a quarter of its production in India by 2025 while chip design giant Qualcomm has earmarked 1.77 billion rupees for an expanded Chennai operation focused on wireless technology.

A report from Washington D.C based think tank ITIF claims India has around 20 percent of the world’s chip design talent. With the new flow of investments, it is estimated that there will be 20,000 more jobs created in the advanced technology sector. While giants like TSMC, Samsung and Intel look forward to dominating advanced sub-28 nm chips, India’s short-term focus is on 28 nm or larger legacy chips. This would give the country an economic boost as it spent $15.6 billion in 2022 importing semiconductors, double from the previous year. At the same time, it would propel India’s ambitious goal of becoming a chip-hub in the semiconductor ecosystem. The US tech partnership with India is crucial to this journey, even as growing human rights concerns become a source of irritation in the bilateral relationship.

About the Author: Abdur Rahim is a staff writer of South Asia Perspectives (SAP).

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