With China as subtext, India-US defence ties set to get stronger

Shedding “hesitations of history,” India-US defence relations are set to scale new frontiers and become a driving force of the crucial bilateral partnership. Recent statements by top US diplomats and senators have stressed on the increasing importance of India-US defence ties in the context of the growing threat perception from an assertive China.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner, Chairman of Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) act to make India a strategic defense partner on a permanent basis. The US will work with countries like India, Japan, and South Korea to tackle the threat of Chinese surveillance, he said.

Mr Warner, who is also co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, underlined that China had emerged as a major problem for the US companies doing businesses in that country and intellectual theft was a big concern.

Just a day after US and India conducted joint naval exercise on July 20, US Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord expressed hope that the US will become India’s “first choice in defence solutions” at the India Ideas Summit organised by the US-India Business Council.

“This cooperation has led to closer relationships across our two governments, and it has also increased stability in the Indo Pacific region,” said Ms Lord.

The ongoing border standoff between India and China has made the US more vocal in support of New Delhi and advancing defence and strategic partnership with the world’s fifth largest economy.

At the 2020 edition of the India Ideas Conclave organised by the USIBC, PM Modi raised the bar for the India-US partnership. “The US-India friendship has scaled many heights in the past. Now it is time our partnership plays an important role in helping the world bounce back faster after the pandemic.”

India-US bilateral defense trade has grown exponentially from zero to reach an estimated $18 billion later this year. Shared security concerns in Asia have steadily brought India and the US closer together and in view of recent Chinese aggressive moves, the scope for military partnership has increased.

The U.S.-India defense relationship has grown over the last decade to become a key component of the overall bilateral partnership. India’s defence exports more than doubled in 2018-2019, compared to 2017-18 and exports are expected to increase as Indian defence ministry adopted two new general export licences for defence exports. The biggest contributor during this period has been the US, accounting for nearly Rs, 5000 crore worth of defence exports (around $666 million), followed by Israel and the EU. A fact sheet released by the US Political-Military Affairs Bureau State Department shows that defence trade with India has increased from near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020.

US carrier strike group’s “cooperative” naval exercise with Indian warships in the Indian Ocean was a clear strategic signal to China. The US, along with several other Asian nations, have repeatedly opposed China’s maritime actions which are seen as violating freedom of the seas upheld by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.

Ms Lord’s remarks came soon after US Secretary of Defence Mark Aspers said America was “very closely” monitoring the situation between India and China along the Line of Actual Control and highlighted America’s increased defence cooperation with India defining it as “one of the all-important defence relationships of the 21st century.” During US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February this year, the two sides concluded significant defence deals, including the Indian purchase of six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for the Indian Army and 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy. The joint statement said that the helicopters would “advance shared security interests, job growth, and industrial cooperation between both countries.”

India was designated “Major Defence Partner” of the US in 2016 and since 2018, it has been able to receive licence free access to a wide range of military and dual use technologies (regulated by the Dept of Commerce) as India was elevated to Strategic Trade authorisation tier 1 status by US administration.


Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.