Modi visit to US – boost to defence cooperation
New significant consensus seems to have emerged between India and the US during the September-end visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States on issues relating to regional and international security, which perhaps will give a strong push to India-US defence relations and trade. With India acknowledging the US Rebalance to Asia policy and US side noting India’s newly drafted and upgraded Act East Policy, it was natural for a superpower of the world and an emerging economic and military power to align and harmonise their strategic priorities.
Probably with China as a big elephant in the Oval room of the White House, Prime Minister Modi and President Barack Obama reaffirmed their shared interests in preserving regional peace and stability, which are critical to Asia-Pacific region’s continued prosperity. Since both the nations have common security concerns and threat perceptions in the Asia-Pacific region Obama and Modi expressed their concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes and both reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.
Since India and the United States use this maritime trade route which forms major portion of their international trade, especially India’s with 55 per cent of trade passing through this region, it was natural for the two powers to challenge indirectly China’s threat of use of force. This is relevant, especially when China advised an euphemism for warning, India to consult Chinese authorities before venturing into Vietnamese maritime area for gas exploration activities, claimed by China as disputed South China Sea waters. Hence it was significant for India and US to jointly call on all parties (read China) to avoid or threat or use of force in advancing their claims, the two leaders urged the concerned parties through a Joint Statement to pursue resolution of their territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This congruence of strategic interests in the South and East China Sea forced the two leaders to say that freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region must be ensured, especially in the South China Sea. It would not have gone unnoticed in Chinese strategic circles, whose President Xi Jinping had made a visit to India only 12 days ago. The shared strategic interests will definitely promote more and deeper defence partnerships between the two nations. According to US officials, US considers defence cooperation as one of the pillars of US-India partnership, hence the two sides decided to renew for ten years the 2005 framework for the US India defence relationship and directed their defence teams to develop plans for more ambitious programmes and activities.
According to an US Embassy official in New Delhi, the two leaders have pledged closer engagement between their security establishments to meet the evolving security challenges of the 21st century. The official informed that since 2008 the two countries have signed defence contracts worth over $10 billion as both governments are committed to reducing impediments and pursuing co-production and co-development opportunities. The official further boasted, “US-sourced defence articles have greatly enhanced the capabilities of the Indian military as demonstrated by the use of C-130J and C-17 transport aircraft to aid flood relief, support peacekeeping operations, and facilitate the evacuation of Indian citizens from Iraq.” The Government of India has already cleared a few major deals worth few billion dollars like 22 Apache attack helicopters and 16 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, besides the deal to co-develop and co-produce the Javelin anti-tank missiles in India.
The deepening defence and security relationships have enthused the business community as well who also see an opportunity in growing interest of US defence industry in entering the manufacturing sector in India. According to the President of FICCI Sidhartha Birla, “The positivity that has been generated through the visit of Prime Minister Modi to the United States will reset the relationship between India and US in all realms be it economic, political
India-US defence and security cooperation is assuming new dimensions for promoting mutual strategic and economic security, which will encourage deeper defence industry partnership.
Both the countries will now enter a new era of codevelopment and co-production, which will change the face of US-India defence relations from supplier–buyer to co-developer and co-producer. After all, India would be acquiring weapon systems worth over $100 billion in the next one decade and it makes sense to invite the armament giants to come and Make in India, according to the vision of Prime Minister Modi.
To accomplish these goals the two countries have set up a task force under the leadership of the US Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall and the Indian Secretary for Defence Production G. Mohan Kumar. This will decide on unique co-production and co-development projects and technologies as part of the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). Since the two countries have agreed on a broader commitment to advance regional maritime security, the two governments are also evaluating possible new areas of technology cooperation.
To give a solid foundation and shape to the ambitious agenda of mutual defence and security cooperation both the governments have scheduled a Defence Policy Group meeting in late October in Washington DC and will also be organising next round of bilateral politico-military dialogue in early December in New Delhi. The decision to reinvigorate the Political Military dialogue is significant in view of evolving contours of defence and security cooperation. This will be expanded to a wider dialogue on export licensing, defence cooperation and strategic cooperation.
To further reinforce contacts and dialogue between defence academic community the two countries have agreed to build a relationship between soon to be set up Indian National Defence University (INDU) and the US National Defence University that will reflect knowledge partnership in the field of defence studies.
At the ground level, the two governments have also decided to promote interactions and exchanges between the three armed forces separately. Said an US official, “Joint exercises are the cornerstone of the US-India defence relationships.” It simply was not a co-incidence that while the two top Heads of States were indulging in intense discussions to promote security cooperation in White House, the armed forces of the two countries were simultaneously engaged in joint exercises in Chaubatia region of Uttarakhand State, with an aim to learn from each other’s experiences and promote interoperability. When the September 30 Obama-Modi meeting were underway in White House the two armies were concluding the 10th annual Yudh Abhyas Exercise, which is managed by the US Pacific Command and the Indian Army. The exercise was focused on peacekeeping and disaster relief. It is worth noting that for six decades India has been one of the top contributors to global peacekeeping missions, while the US is the largest financial contributor of the UN Peacekeeping. Significantly US and India have also decided to upgrade the ongoing bilateral Malabar naval exercises, in which this year Japanese warships also took part. This is in keeping with the decision to soon call the next round of India-Japan and US trilateral dialogue, which also dwell on the ways to deal with the new maritime challenge which has been thrown by China in the East and South China Sea. Thus India-US defence and security cooperation is gradually assuming new dimensions for promoting mutual strategic and economic security, which will encourage deeper defence industry partnership.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with President Barack Obama
at the White House in Washington DC