The US has indicated that it will rethink its current emphasis on the “Pacific” portion of its Indo-Pacific Strategy and improve India’s maritime capabilities in the Indian Ocean sector of the Indo-Pacific to deal with China’s emerging dominance.
This message was delivered loud and clear following the recent virtual summit between US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which was followed by the fourth 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, and their respective Indian counterparts Rajnath Singh and S. Jaishankar on April 11, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
The statement issued of the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, which was released on April 12 and was heavily underplayed in the Indian and international media (indeed, it was barely noted), was 4326 words long.
Looking at this, it’s clear that Indo-US relations aren’t one-dimensional, and that disagreements over Ukraine aren’t the only thing that affects them. It covered a wide range of topics, including security, science and technology, space, health, climate change, clean energy education, innovation and supply chains, cyber security, artificial intelligence, counterterrorism, and narcotics, all of which the two countries are currently working on and will continue to work on in the future.
Indo-US defence and security cooperation took up 731 words in this crucial document. Four remarks made on the subject stand out in particular.
One, the two nations have underlined their desire to establish “an advanced and comprehensive defence alliance in which the militaries of the United States and India coordinate closely across all domains,” including space, artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber.
They’ve also emphasised the importance of cooperation in space, announcing plans to hold an inaugural Defense Space Dialogue and an inaugural Artificial Intelligence Dialogue this year to capitalise on prospects for cooperative innovation and cooperation.
Two, India and the US have emphasised the need of establishing a comprehensive framework that allows their forces to communicate information in real time across domains.
To enhance integrated and multi-domain collaboration, there will be more joint service cooperation between the two military. Regular bilateral and multilateral exercises, such as the MALABAR exercise with Australia, the tri-service TIGER TRIUMPH exercise, the multilateral MILAN naval exercise, the bilateral YUDH ABHYAS and VAJRA PRAHAR Army exercises, the bilateral COPE India air exercise, and Indian participation in RED FLAG, have been reaffirmed by both nations. They’ve also resolved to strengthen their Special Forces’ collaboration.
In 2023, India will co-host the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC) and Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) with the United States.
China a Common Threat
Three, both India and the United States have acknowledged that their navies are the driving force behind furthering their shared objectives in the Indian Ocean region and the Indo-Pacific as a whole. As a result, there will be greater opportunities for marine cooperation to progress and deepen, including underwater domain awareness.
Both countries appear to be aware of the grave consequences if China becomes the dominant naval power in the vital space running from the Malacca Strait to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. China is rumoured to be trying to build up a fleet of warships capable of dominating the Indian Ocean. According to reports, by 2030, it intends to have 67 new main surface combatants and 12 new nuclear-powered submarines.
If China builds such a power, it will be able to control oil supply channels in the Middle East, as well as protect hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrant workers and its overseas businesses. The US wants India to be a “net security supplier” in this context, with the Indian Navy playing a “leading role in preserving Indian Ocean security.”
Currently, the US is assisting the Indian military in increasing its operational reach and exploring new potential for collaboration in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Regular bilateral logistical activities, such as replenishment at sea, air-to-air, and land refuelling, now take place on a regular basis.
The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between the two countries will boost the quantity and intensity of these operations.
Four, and this is a significant development, India and the United States have recognised the importance of forging strong private-sector collaboration under the auspices of the India-US Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, which includes a project agreement to co-develop Air-Launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
They’ve decided to look into further DTTI projects, including a counter-unmanned aerial systems system and an Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance platform.
India and the United States have now committed to work together to build reliable and robust defence supply chains, which includes facilitating partnerships on cutting-edge defence technologies between their respective sectors.
As a result, co-production, co-development, joint testing of advanced systems, investment promotion, and the construction of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facilities in India will all be possible.
Indeed, the DTTI initiative’s dismal track record has been one of the key impediments in Indo-US defence cooperation thus far. Indians have been unhappy that, while the Americans want India to become less reliant on Russian armaments, they have never provided India with all of the necessary incentives and equipment.
The United States has not done much with India in terms of high-end defence technology transfer and co-development. Russia, as well as France and Israel, are not hesitant to collaborate on military projects in India. In terms of the United States, DTTI was expected to be a catalyst for expanded defence technology collaboration between the two countries, but it has been a tremendous letdown.
In this context, it is good news for the Indian military sector that the recently concluded 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue has resolved to revitalise the DTTI with a specific purpose to foster cooperation research, development, and manufacturing of defence technologies.
Of course, everything hinges on the two countries’ officials carrying out the agreements reached by their ministers. And that deal is based on India and the United States establishing themselves as dependable and mature defence partners.