One of the key priorities of the second Modi government is building on the ‘global strategic partnership’ with the United States (US) which has emerged in recent years as an indispensable partner in India’s economic transformation and the realisation of its aspiration to play a bigger role on the global stage. The defence partnership is a key pillar of the bilateral relationship. In recent years, this aspect of the bilateral relations has blossomed.
India and the United States are conducting their first tri-services Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise called ‘Tiger Triumph’ off the coast of Andhra Pradesh between 13-21 Nov. US Marine Corps and a Special Forces reconnaissance team, Indian Navy’s P8i long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, among others, arel participating in the Tiger Triumph exercise. The ‘harbour phase’ will be in Visakhapatnam from November 13 to 16 and the second phase in Kakinada from November 17 to 21. Around 400 troops, including Indian Army’s signal, medical and communication arms will participate in the exercise. Russia is the only country with which India has held similar exercise in the past.
The tri-services exercise was discussed during the inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of the India and the United States in September 2018, where “Recognizing their rapidly growing military-to-military ties, the two sides committed to the creation of a new, tri-services exercise and to further increase personnel exchanges between the two militaries and defence organizations.” The exercise was announced by President Trump at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Texas during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US in September 2019.
Both nations have similar views on a stable Indo-Pacific region and there is a growing convergence of political will which has allowed the two nations to sign two inter-operatability agreements – the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LeMOA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (CCSA). They are now in the process of discussing the third such agreement, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), for joint access to geospatial maps. India and the US conduct more than fifty cooperative events with each other’s services in a year. India and the US hold several combat exercises every year, which range from the top-notch naval Malabar (with Japan as the third participant) to the counter-terror Vajra Prahar and Yudh Abhyas drills between their armies. Together, these exercises allow the forces of the two countries to rehearse a multitude of combat scenarios and understand the operational structure of the other. The current India-US exercise allows India to gain from the experience of the US forces in joint operations in war conditions. It would also enhance the joint preparedness of the two forces for future operations. The joint exercise is important as it allows India and the US to deepen their defence relations.
India needs to build its defence capabilities in a rapid pace to deal with threats from both its land borders as well as the maritime environment. For this, it requires the latest technology and equipment. India has embarked on an ambitious programme of defence manufacturing under the’Make in India’ programme. Nonetheless, partnership with the US, the foremost nation in defence research and development would be welcome. For the US, India is a potential partner in dealing with the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s defence market is another attraction.
The US is viewing its’ relationship with India in the context of enhanced defence partnerships, capacity programmes and interoperability of armed forces. The two nations are also in the process of revising the 2012 India-US defence technology and trade initiative to include start-up and projects in third countries to explore export options. This would allow more industry to industry interactions to enhance research and development. The focus now is to review the progress made in the bilateral relations in cross-cutting defence, security, and foreign policy areas since the inaugural 2+2 ministerial meeting in 2018.
Script: Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Strategic Analyst On American Affairs