Source : Press Trust of India (PTI)
Washington: The US wants to make sure that it is partnering with India in its defence modernisation plans and to better enable it to play a “broader stabilising role” in the strategic Indo-Pacific region, according to a senior Pentagon official.
The Biden administration has taken several steps to strengthen the India-US defence relationship since it assumed power in January 2021.
“As India is taking a look at how it accelerates its own defence modernisation, in order to expand the role that it already plays as what I would describe as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region, but more broadly in the Indo-Pacific, the United States wants to make sure that we are partnering with India to better enable it to play that broader stabilising role in the region,” the senior defence official told PTI on Saturday.
“We have been very focused on ways that we are advancing interoperability between the US and the Indian military,” the official from the Pentagon said on condition of anonymity.
“Obviously, the signature initiative I would highlight here is the tri-service exercise that we have between, which from our view is better equipping both of our militaries to be prepared for the kinds of challenges we will face in the future, which will require joint responses on both sides,” the official said.
The official, however, refrained from describing the kind of responses that the two countries would have to their common challenges, amidst China’s aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific.
The militaries of the two countries have coordinated in the past during several natural disasters.
“A lot of the exercises we’re talking about are really focused on a lot of the disasters and other kinds of crises that we would see happening all of the time in the Indo-Pacific region,” the official said.
“In addition, as we operate operationally, we are looking at what we do together in emerging technological domains, which I think we both recognise are increasingly important to the modern way of warfare,” said the senior official.
For instance, emerging technologies in the domain of space and cyberspace.
“We were very pleased that this past year, we’ve been discussing a new emerging defence capabilities dialogue that will focus on space, Artificial Intelligence (AI), cyberspace, and how we work together in those domains,” said the official.
“I think, (we are) looking at how the United States and India both play an anchoring role in the broader regional architecture. So obviously, the Quad is an important part of our overall cooperation, but (we are) looking also at how we can both provide support to ASEAN and in other kinds of multilateral settings, even more informally,” the official noted.
In November 2017, the US, Australia, India and Japan gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the four-nation Quad grouping to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence, amid China’s growing military presence in the strategic region and Beijing’s maritime disputes with many countries in the Indo-Pacific.
Giving an example, the official said the La Perouse exercise that the US had with multiple countries across the region looked at ways that both the United States and India can join together in some of those groupings to support multilateral cooperation.
India and the US have signed a new space situational awareness agreement, which speaks about the work that the two nations are doing to focus on new technologies and emerging domains.
“Agreeing to those bilateral defence space and AI dialogues that we’ll be having together, we see all of that work is really supporting the broader effort that the White House is leading on the US-India work on critical and emerging technologies,” the official said.
On the operational front, the Defence Department has been in particular focused on Navy-to-Navy cooperation.
“This was discussed at the 2+2 dialogue last year and then we just recently saw the first fruits of that conversation with the Charles Drew (US naval ship) pulling into Chennai, for mid-voyage ship repair,” the official said.
“We anticipate more of that coming up, going forward. But we think that’s really going to enable greater logistical and operational cooperation between our navies, which has really been at the leading forefront of what we’re doing,” the official said.
India’s decision to join Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Bahrain is another example of how the US is leaning forward on more multilateral cooperation together with New Delhi.
In April 2022, during the India-US 2+2 dialogue, India announced that it would be joining the CMF as an associate partner to strengthen cooperation in regional security in the western Indian Ocean.
The official said one of the top priorities of the United States is to ensure that it is a reliable partner to India and to make sure that as India looks at its own defence needs, Washington is providing assistance, wherever it can, as a friend and a partner.
He said the US consults regularly with India about its most pressing defence needs.
“In many cases, we’re very pleased that the track record of defence trade and sales between the United States and India has been really solid over the last couple of decades,” the official said.
“Anytime and every time our Indian friends bring requirements or near-term needs to us that they’ve identified, we are always working very hard to ensure that if there is a way that the United States can help fill that requirement, that we do that as quickly as possible,” the official said.
The official said every country has the desire to have a strong domestic industrial base.
“And if anything, the combination of COVID and the war in Ukraine has reminded us all why that is so important for every country in the world. We completely understand that,” the official said, apparently referring to India’s push for Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India), including in the critical defence industry.
“I think though, that it has also reminded us how important it is, whether we’re talking in the commercial sector, or the defence sector, to leverage the complementary strengths of our allies and partners and find opportunities to work together,” the official said.
“That’s where some of the things that are already underway, work where Indian companies and American companies have partnered together to produce defence platforms, we think is really a very promising model for the future, and one that we hope that we’re going to continue to do together,” said the official.
“That both supports India’s desire to have growing domestic production capacity and expertise, as well as American desire to work closely with our partners,” the official added.