In­dia & US: New phase in de­fence part­ner­ship

To win In­dian hearts and minds, Mat­tis talked of steadily ex­pand­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion, un­der­pinned by a strate­gic con­ver­gence based on com­mon ob­jec­tives and goals in the re­gion

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ran­jit Ku­mar ]

Af­ter In­dia-US de­fence re­la­tions reached to its as­tound­ing heights at the fag end of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, both the coun­tries saw a lull in high level con­tacts cre­at­ing a per­cep­tion that the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves more on trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship than shar­ing some­thing crit­i­cal to In­dia’s de­fence needs. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could af­ford to send its De­fense Sec­re­tary to In­dia only af­ter com­plet­ing eight months in the first year of its four year ten­ure. Nonethe­less, this long over­due visit of the US De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis is ex­pected to re­vi­talise and give a new push to the In­dia-US Strate­gic and De­fence part­ner­ship, es­pe­cially in view of the new Afghan strat­egy of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is much closer to In­dia’s hearts.

Though af­ter the Septem­ber 26 talks in the South Block at Raisina

Hills, In­dian De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man bluntly re­fused to agree to the wishes of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­trib­ute more in terms of strength­en­ing se­cu­rity in the vi­o­lence rid­den coun­try, the two sides dis­cussed how to mu­tu­ally as­sist the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan, which is an anath­ema to the Tal­iban and Pak­istan. Mat­tis did not press for In­dian troops pres­ence in Afghanistan as the US side per­haps recog­nises the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of the In­dian gov­ern­ment to ask its troops to land on the thorny grounds of Afghanistan.

With con­ver­gence of views on Afghanistan, In­dian Ocean and the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, it was nat­u­ral for the US side to agree to the In­dian needs of cut­ting edge de­fence tech­nolo­gies, which will ul­ti­mately bal­ance the main ri­val of United States. As China is try­ing to re­strict the strate­gic space for the only su­per power i.e. US from the In­dian Ocean to Pa­cific Ocean, the United States, dur­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion found it in­cum­bent on them to grant In­dia the sta­tus of Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner, which will en­able the Pen­tagon to share its top end de­fence tech­nol­ogy with In­dia. With this view, the US side had also en­tered into a spe­cific agree­ment called the De­fence Tech­nol­ogy and Trade Ini­tia­tive ( DTTI) .

Nir­mala Sithara­man dis­closed that dur­ing the talks with James Mat­tis, both sides dis­cussed how to re­fo­cus and re-en­er­gize the DTTI as a mech­a­nism to pro­mote tech­nol­ogy shar­ing as well as code­vel­op­ment and co-pro­duc­tion ef­forts. Un­der the DTTI um­brella the US side ex­pressed their will­ing­ness to share cut­ting edge plat­forms , which would en­hance In­dia’s de­fence pre­pared­ness to meet cur­rent and emerg­ing threats. Since there has been con­cerns in In­dian side re­gard­ing the fate of the DTTI , this is­sue was dis­cussed dur­ing the Mat­tis-Nir­mala meet­ing. Though, In­dian con­cerns were ad­dressed to a large ex­tent when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion cleared the Na­tional De­fence Au­tho­ri­sa­tion Act of 2017 (NDAA 2017), which in­sti­tu­tion­alised the DTTI mech­a­nism.

Un­der the DTTI, both sides have nom­i­nated DRDO and US de­fence lab­o­ra­to­ries as lead agen­cies to fruc­tify the se­lected projects and plan joint work on other fu­tur­is­tic projects. Un­der the DTTI, the two sides are dis­cussing the de­vel­op­ment of Next Gen­er­a­tion In­di­vid­ual Pro­tec­tion En­sem­ble, Mo­bile Elec­tric Hy­brid Power Source, Dig­i­tal Hel­met Mounted Dis­play and the Joint Bi­o­log­i­cal Tac­ti­cal De­tec­tion Sys­tem. The first two projects have reached the agree­ment stage whereas the last two are in dis­cus­sion stage. These four projects un­der DTTI were an­nounced dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barak Obama visit to In­dia as Chief Guest for the 2015 Repub­lic Day pa­rade.

These projects un­der DTTI were de­cided dur­ing the Obama regime. Un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion the two sides are still wait­ing for the next round of DTTI meet­ing planned to be held in Pen­tagon. Un­der the DTTI, the US side had pro­posed bi­lat­eral de­vel­op­ment of Fu­ture Ver­ti­cal Lift He­li­copter (FVLH). The Amer­i­can side had also pro­posed to the In­dian Min­istry of De­fence that the two sides work on an agree­ment for US made fighter F-16 or F-18 un­der DTTI but In­dian side de­clined the of­fer. How­ever, since the IAF has in­vited Lock­heed Martin along with SAAB of Swe­den for their sin­gle en­gine fighters, the US De­fense Sec­re­tary is be­lieved to have raised this is­sue with Nir­mala.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the US side is still press­ing In­dian lead­ers to ac­cept one of the two US fighters to be made in In­dia for the In­dian Air Force. Though, the US arms com­pa­nies have many con­cerns re­gard­ing the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship pol­icy of mak­ing front line fighters for IAF or sub­marines for In­dian Navy in In­dia. The US de­fence com­pany Lock­heed Martin has al­ready writ­ten to the In­dian de­fence min­istry re­gard­ing the con­cerns re­lat­ing to ma­jor­ity stake in the joint ven­ture com­pany to be set up in In­dia be­sides is­sues re­lat­ing to tech­nol­ogy trans­fer. Sig­nif­i­cantly, Mat­tis dis­closed that he dis­cussed with Nir­mala ways to fur­ther deepen the ro­bust De­fence Trade and Tech­nolo­gies through the De­fence Tech­nolo­gies and Trade Ini­tia­tive. He em­pha­sized that co­op­er­a­tion in these ar­eas will im­prove the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of both our mil­i­taries and re­in­force the foun­da­tion for an en­dur­ing part­ner­ship.

In this con­text De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala said that both agreed on the need to ex­pand on the progress al­ready made by en­cour­ag­ing co-pro­duc­tion and co-de­vel­op­men­tal ef­forts. Nir­mala re­it­er­ated In­dia’s deep in­ter­est in en­hanc­ing de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing in In­dia un­der Prime Min­is­ter’s ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive. She thanked Mat­tis for his sup­port­ive po­si­tion in this re­gard and looked for­ward to work­ing closely with him to re­al­ize joint projects.

The US arms ma­jors have tasted the fruits of In­dian de­fence mod­ern­iza­tion dur­ing last one decade with over ww$15 bil­lion deals. They are now eye­ing over $200 bil­lion worth of arms ac­qui­si­tion plans dur­ing next one and half decades. They can­not af­ford to miss the In­dian armed forces mod­ern­iza­tion bus. The ri­val Euro­pean and Rus­sian de­fence firms are of­fer­ing ev­ery thing un­der the sky to win the In­dian con­tract.

To win In­dian hearts and minds, Mat­tis talked of steadily ex­pand­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion , un­der­pinned by a strate­gic con­ver­gence based on com­mon ob­jec­tives and goals in the re­gion. In this back­drop Mat­tis re­ferred to grant of Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner to In­dia re­flect­ing the progress made in strength­en­ing our co­op­er­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Mat­tis, grant of Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner sta­tus rec­og­nizes In­dia as a pil­lar of re­gional sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity. This also re­flects our de­sire for a long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship in the 21st cen­tury.

Mat­tis said that in the wide rang­ing new re­la­tion­ship, se­cu­rity is one of the key strate­gic pil­lars. This will help ex­pand US–In­dia co­op­er­a­tion in build­ing part­ner­ships, across the re­gion. In this con­text Mat­tis talked of con­ver­gence of views on Afghanistan and lauded In­dia’s in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to Afghanistan and wel­come fur­ther ef­forts to pro­mote Afghanistan’s democ­racy, sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity. He also as­suaged In­dia’s con­cerns on ter­ror­ism, with­out nam­ing Pak­istan, by stat­ing that there can be no tol­er­ance of ter­ror­ist safe heav­ens.

Var­i­ous pro­nounce­ments of Mat­tis af­ter talks with Nir­mala Sithara­man gave the im­pres­sion that the US side is very ea­ger to deepen its mar­itime part­ner­ship with In­dia which will help in bal­anc­ing and coun­ter­ing China not only in In­dian Ocean but also in South China Sea.

In this back­drop, Mat­tis also talked of In­dia’s vi­tal role to play in sup­port­ing South East Asia’s re­gional in­sti­tu­tions – par­tic­u­larly ASEAN – and build­ing part­ner­ship ca­pac­ity across the re­gion. He also ap­pre­ci­ated In­dia’s lead­er­ship role in the In­dian Ocean and both sides seek­ing to work to­gether to build a re­gional ar­chi­tec­ture.

Mat­tis said that ex­pand­ing mar­itime en­gage­ment is among his top pri­or­i­ties. The two sides are al­ready hold­ing an­nual mar­itime di­a­logue which ac­cord­ing to Mat­tis is an im­por­tant mech­a­nism to de­velop shared un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges we face and op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­op­er­a­tion in ad­dress­ing them. Mat­tis re­ferred to US-In­dia an­nual mar­itime naval ex­er­cise with Ja­pan, which he de­scribed as an ex­am­ple of deep­en­ing op­er­a­tional co­op­er­a­tion. Sat­is­fied with the visit Sithara­man com­mented that In­dia and US are en­ter­ing a new phase in bi­lat­eral strate­gic de­fence part­ner­ship.

Ac­cord­ing to Mat­tis, grant of Ma­jor De­fence Part­ner sta­tus recog­nises In­dia as a pil­lar of re­gional sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity

Forg­ing Ties: De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man with the US Sec­re­tary of De­fence James Mat­tis in New Delhi

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