By Sumit Kumar Singh
New Delhi, Jan 19 : The defence relationship has emerged as a major pillar in ties between India and the US over the last few years with intensification in defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, and cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy.
The strategic partnership between both countries is expected to strengthen further with a new government in the US led by President Joe Biden that is expected to carry out “steady investment and recalibration rather than redesigning” its Indo-Pacific agenda.
The defence and security relationship between both the countries will “continue to deepen, aided by robust political commitments in both countries and converging concerns about growing Chinese assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific.”
“The US defence and security relationship with India is a modest but important piece of the Biden administration’s wider Indo-Pacific agenda, and one that will require steady investment and recalibration rather than major redesign,” stated a report of Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington, DC.
As part of strategic partnership, India conducts more bilateral exercises with the US than with any other country. Some important bilateral exercises are: Yudh Abhyas, Vajra Prahar, Tarkash, Tiger Triumph, and Cope India.
“Both the countries’ armies are going for joint exercise in coming February along with counter terrorism exercises,” said a senior Indian Army officer.
India’s aggregate worth of defence-related acquisitions from the US is more than $15 billion. The India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is aimed at promoting co-development and co-production efforts.
In June 2016, the US recognised India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’, which commits the US to facilitate technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The announcement of India’s elevation to tier I of the Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) licence exception will further contribute towards facilitating interaction in advanced and sensitive technologies.
A number of significant outcomes in the area of defence cooperation were achieved during the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogues held in September 2018 and December 2019.
Apart from the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogues, some other important dialogue mechanisms on defence cooperation are: Defence Policy Group, Military Cooperation Group, Defence Technology and Trade Initiative and its Joint Working Groups, Executive Steering Groups for Army, Navy and Air Force, Defence Procurement and Production Group, Senior Technology Security Group, and the Joint Technical Group.
The relationship has become a comprehensive, resilient, and multi-faceted Major Defence Partnership between both the countries.
The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) is one significant step in strengthening both countries’ defence ties. It will enhance maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between both the navies.
Both countries are now committed to build upon existing defence information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
India and US has increased cooperation between the Indian military and US Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests.
The positioning of a Liaison Officer from the US Navy at the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) and the positioning of an Indian Liaison Officer at NAVCENT, Bahrain reiterates both the countries’ intent towards military cooperation.
The implementation of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), including the expansion of secure communications capabilities to include secure video teleconference capabilities between their respective navies, armies and air forces as well as between respective foreign and defence ministries has taken both the relationship to new heights.
The Military Cooperation Group (MCG) for bilateral military-to-military engagement including joint exercises, training and expert exchanges has taken shape and the interaction between the Special Forces of India and the US will further bring the defence cooperation level to operational level.
The ministers welcomed the inclusion of the Royal Australian Navy in the US-India-Japan MALABAR Naval Exercise held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
Further, there is deepening of maritime cooperation between US-India navies. The PASSEX carried out by the navies of both countries is witness to the growing defence relationship between both countries. Last year, Indian naval ships conducted a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the US Navy’s USS Nimitz carrier strike group near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Both the countries are looking forward to the convening of the next edition of the Tri-Services Amphibious Tiger Triumph HADR Exercise and Army Exercises Yudh Abhyas and Vajra Prahar in 2021.
India too is co-hosting the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leader Forum (SELF) in 2023.
Both countries are working together to realise the development of their respective defence industries. India contributes to the global supply chain of major defence platforms and also is committed to defence innovation. Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is one of the steps towards achieving this goal. DTTI was formed in 2012 between the US and India to enhance bilateral relations in defence by venturing into the field of advanced defence research and development and manufacturing.
Further, signing of a Statement of Intent at the 10th DTTI meeting to strengthen dialogue on defence technology cooperation on several specific DTTI projects as well as a DTTI Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for identification and development of joint projects was a major step.
Also the participation by the US government and defence industry at the upcoming Aero India in February 2021 is a sign of increased defence cooperation.
(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at email@example.com)