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How defence partnership ringfences ties between India, US

Consider this: starting virtually from scratch, US has notched up Indian defence deals worth $20 billion for aircraft, helicopters and howitzers in just the last 13 years, managing to displace India’s long-standing military supplier Russia for a few years. Several more deals worth over $7 billion are in the pipeline.

, TNN|
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2020, 10.35 AM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Feb 23, 2020)
Expansive defence cooperation has been, and will continue to be, the lodestar of wider India-US ties. Whether Bush Jr or Obama, or now Trump, bilateral defence ties have been on an upward trajectory for almost two decades now despite persisting disputes on other fronts like trade and tariffs.

Consider this: starting virtually from scratch, US has notched up Indian defence deals worth $20 billion for aircraft, helicopters and howitzers in just the last 13 years, managing to displace India’s long-standing military supplier Russia for a few years. Several more deals worth over $7 billion are in the pipeline.

These deals, though, are a small part of the ever-tightening strategic embrace between the two nations, both wary of the rise of an aggressive and expansionist China in the Indo-Pacific. From a flurry of joint exercises for greater interoperability between their armed forces to foundational military pacts, and operational intelligence-sharing to expanding security cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region, India and the US have set a scorching pace that has astounded many sceptics.

But it’s not all hunky-dory. US is upset with India for inking the $5.43-billion deal for S-400 Triumf missile systems with Russia in October 2018, and then following it up with a $3-billion deal to lease an Akula-1 nuclear-powered attack submarine in March 2019.

Besides, the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) between India and the US to co-develop and produce cutting-edge military technologies has failed to take off since being launched in 2012. But Indian and US officials contend DTTI is now being jump-started, with the two sides agreeing last October to focus on seven projects. These include a “short-term” one to develop drone swarms that can overwhelm enemy air defences and a “long-term” one on anti-drone technology called “counter-UAS rocket, artillery and mortar systems”.

“DTTI will now steadily move forward. Moreover, there is also growing integration between Indian and American defence industries,” said a senior Indian official.

Similarly, joint exercises, from the naval “Malabar” (with Japan as the third regular participant) to the counterterror “Vajra Prahar” and “Yudh Abhyas”, are becoming wider in scope, size and complexity. The two sides also held their first-ever tri-Service exercise, “Tiger Triumph”, in Bay of Bengal last November.

India is now also moving towards finalising the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA), the fourth and final foundational pact with the US after the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) of 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) of 2016 and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) of 2018.

While LEMOA provides for reciprocal logistical support, COMCASA has paved the way for India to get greater access to military technologies. BECA will enable the US to share advanced satellite and topographical data for longrange navigation and missiletargeting with India. “The next meeting to discuss BECA will be in March. It will probably be ready for inking by next year,” said a senior official.
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