The US will partner India to help New Delhi play a “broader stabilising role” in the strategic Indo-Pacific region, a senior defence official from the Pentagon has said. The Biden administration has taken several steps to strengthen India-US defence relationship since it assumed power in January 2021.
“As India is taking a look at how it accelerates its own defence modernisation, in order to expand the role that it already plays as what I would describe as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region, but more broadly in the Indo-Pacific, the United States wants to make sure that we are partnering with India to better enable it to play that broader stabilising role in the region,” a senior defence official told PTI on Saturday. “We have been very focused on ways that we are advancing interoperability between the US and the Indian military. Obviously, the signature initiative I would highlight here is the tri-service exercise that we have between, which from our view is better equipping both of our militaries to be prepared for the kinds of challenges we will face in the future, which will require joint responses on both sides,” the official said.
The senior defence official, however, refrained from describing the kind of responses that the two countries would respond to their common challenges. The militaries of two countries have coordinated in the past during several natural disasters. “A lot of the exercises we’re talking about are really focused on a lot of the disasters and other kinds of crises that we would see happening all of the time in the Indo Pacific region. So much like the QUAD really sprung out of the Indian Ocean tsunami, I think we would envision the United States and India being both capable and able to respond quickly and hopefully together if we could do similar kinds of disasters in the future,” the official said.
“In addition, as we operate operationally, we are looking at what we do together in emerging technological domains, which I think we both recognise are increasingly important to the modern way of warfare,” said the senior defence official. For instance, emerging technologies in the domain of space and cyberspace. “We were very pleased that this past year, we’ve been discussing a new emerging defence capabilities dialogue that will focus on space, AI, cyberspace, and how we work together in those domains,” said the official.
“I think, looking at how the United States and India both play an anchoring role in the broader regional architecture. So obviously, the QUAD is an important part of our overall cooperation, but looking also at how we can both provide support to ASEAN and in other kinds of multilateral settings, even more informally,” the official noted. For example, the La Perouse exercise that the US had with multiple countries across the region, looking at ways that both the United States and India can join together in some of those groupings to support multilateral cooperation, the official said. India and the US have signed a new space situational awareness agreement, which speaks to the work that the two nations are doing to focus on new technologies and emerging domains.
“Agreeing to those bilateral defence space and AI dialogues that we’ll be having together, we see all of that work is really supporting the broader effort that the White House is leading on US India work on critical and emerging technologies,” the official said.On the operational front, the Defence Department has been in particular focused on Navy-to-Navy cooperation.
“This was discussed at the Two-Plus-Two dialogue last year and then we just recently saw the first fruits of that conversation with the Charles Drew pulling into Chennai, for mid voyage ship repair,” the official said.“We anticipate more of that coming up, going forward. But we think that’s really going to enable greater logistical and operational cooperation between our navies, which has really been at the leading forefront of what we’re doing,” the defence official told PTI. India’s decision to join CMF Bahrain is another example of how the US is leaning forward on more multilateral cooperation together with New Delhi.
The official said one of the top priorities of the United States is to ensure that it is a reliable partner to India, and to make sure that as India looks at its own defence needs, Washington is providing assistance, wherever it can, as a friend and a partner.“We consult regularly with all of our Indian counterparts about what the most pressing defence needs they have been. In many cases we’re very pleased that the track record of defence trade and sales between the United States and India has been really solid over the last couple of decades,” the official said.
“Anytime and every time our Indian friends bring requirements or near term needs to us that they’ve identified, we are always working very hard to ensure that if there is a way that the United States can help fill that requirement, that we do that as quickly as possible. In the past, that has included the United States, looking at options either for leasing for sales, anything that we can do, and all of that remains on the table and something that we’re in active conversations with,” the defence official said.
The official said every country has a desire to have a strong domestic industrial base.“And if anything, the combination of COVID and the war in Ukraine has reminded us all why that is so important for every country in the world. We completely understand that” the official said.
“I think though, that it has also reminded us how important it is, whether we’re talking in the commercial sector, or the defence sector, to leverage the complementary strengths of our allies and partners and find opportunities to work together,” the official said. “That’s where some of the things that are already underway, work where Indian companies and American companies have partnered together to produce defence platforms, we think is really a very promising model for the future, and one that we hope that we’re going to continue to do together,” said the official. “That both supports India’s desire to have growing domestic production capacity and expertise, as well as American desire to work closely with our partners,” the senior defence official added.