A senior US government official said on Wednesday that the US will cooperate closely with India in the Indian Ocean region to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific and to bolster India’s ability to project power in the face of rising Chinese navy activities.
According to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) activities in areas ranging from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean fit into a pattern of behaviour aimed at undermining the rules-based order and attempting to change the status quo through coercion.
At the same time, the US is focused on assisting India in modernising its military and supporting the country’s defence indigenisation agenda, which aligns with American plans to assist India’s armed forces in transitioning away from reliance on Russian-made equipment and platforms, according to the official. These measures will also lead to a deeper integration of the two countries’ defence industry.
Despite the fact that India’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine differed from that of the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – Australia, Japan, and the United States – the official stated that this would not be a “significant hindrance” to cooperation within the grouping.
“The operational environment in the Indian Ocean region is changing, in part because to increased PLA operations,” says the report.
“We’re interested in helping India’s capacities and ability to project forces, as well as deepening our own bilateral cooperation, both operationally and in terms of information sharing,” the person added.
“When I look at what the PLA is doing in the Indian Ocean and at the LAC, I see it as part of a pattern of behaviour that is connected to what is happening in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the East China Sea – which is that you have a country with the intention and capability to undermine the rules-based order and to try to change the status quo through coercion,” he added.
The United States is likewise concerned about PLA sites in other countries, as well as the PLA’s “capacity to utilise economic and military tools for coercive purposes against regional countries.” The recent covert security arrangement between China and the Solomon Islands is “part of a pattern of behaviour,” according to the official, and it is apparent that the PLA is “seeking for overseas installations wherever it can get them, and that includes South Asia.”
The official described ties with India as “one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world” and one of the “most consequential” for the Biden administration, adding that the US is committed to assisting India in modernising its military and supporting the Indian side’s defence manufacturing indigenization.
The official pointed out that India’s indigenization strategy fits in with the country’s transition away from Russian equipment, a “trend that is already underway,” and that the US “will look for chances to help this objective.”
In the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, the United States has increased its pressure on India over its relations with Russia. During a March visit to New Delhi, US undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland hinted at transferring Soviet-era equipment and supplies to wean India away from Russian military hardware.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a substantial obstacle to collaboration in the Quad,” the US official said when asked if the divisions over the Ukraine issue will influence the Quad’s functioning. We recognise that India and Russia have a long and difficult connection.
“We also have a very broad connection with India, which we are working on across the board on a variety of subjects.” Of course, we’re not going to agree on everything, but we’re in constant contact on these topics.”
The official went on to say that the US had made “no decisions” on whether to impose secondary penalties under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over India’s $5.4 billion deal with Russia to buy S-400 air defence systems.
The United States has bolstered efforts to expand the defence cooperation and collaborate on military technology and platform research and manufacturing. Artificial intelligence, cyber, space, and underwater domain awareness will all be areas where cooperation will be expanded.
Projects will be hastened under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and leadership on both sides has sent a “very strong signal” to assure success, including overcoming bureaucratic barriers to technology transfer.
According to the person, the US Office of Naval Research is considering placing experts and engineers in India to collaborate on co-development and co-production projects with their Indian counterparts.