There is an “incredible momentum” in the US-India defence relationship and the much awaited 2+2 dialogue between the two countries will take place here in early April, a top Pentagon official has said during a Congressional hearing on the Indo-Pacific region. The last meeting of the 2+2 dialogue was held in New Delhi in 2020 and the next meeting is to be hosted by the US in Washington. The 2+2 ministerial dialogue takes place between foreign and defence ministers of both sides.
India and the United States held a bilateral 2+2 Inter-sessional meeting at the official level on 1 September 2021 in Washington DC. They reviewed progress made since the last 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in October 2020. Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told members of the House Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday on the Indo-Pacific region that he perceives the US-India defence relationship as one with “incredible momentum”.
At the same time, he acknowledged that there are challenges with the relationship with India.“But I think they’re manageable and we are moving forward very rapidly in deepening the partnership,” he said. “We’re going to hold our highest senior-level engagement with them in early April.“That’s a two plus two with Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken, Secretary (of Defence Lloyd) Austin and their (Indian) counterparts (External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh
“We are also seeing accelerated progress in our Major Defence Partnership with India as we continue to work alongside our Indian counterparts to better integrate and operationalise our day-to-day defence cooperation and logistics, enhance information sharing, and grow our bilateral cooperation in emerging domains such as space and cyberspace,” Ratner said.
The US recognised India as a “Major Defence Partner” in 2016, a designation that allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.
Ratner further said: “We are expanding the geographic scope of military cooperation with India to include greater coordination and cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, where we share common goals and security interests. This progress is particularly evident in our expanding naval cooperation – bilaterally and with regional partners – to promote freedom of navigation and enhance maritime domain awareness across the region”.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. Beijing is also involved in a maritime dispute with Japan over the East China Sea. Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander of US Indo-Pacific Command said that the world’s largest democracy India is a strong, capable partner with a closely aligned vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“Recently, we entered into information sharing agreements, and we continue to expand our operations together. USINDOPACOM maximises cooperation, information sharing and interoperability in exercises like SEA DRAGON, TIGER TRIUMPH and MALABAR,” he said.Over the past decade, India substantially increased its acquisition of US defence equipment by purchasing US-sourced platforms such as MH-60Rs, P-8s, C-130Js, C-17s, AH64s, CH-47s, and M777 howitzers. India may purchase other US systems such as F-21s (former F-16s), F/A-18s, additional P-8s, and UAVs in the future, he said.