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Indo US Defence Cooperation:
Impetus in Strategic Dialogue

Rahul Bhonsle

Indo US Defence Cooperation: Impetus in Strategic Dialogue
External Affairs Minister of India Shri Salman Khurshid and Secretary of State John F Kerry co-chaired the fourth India-US Strategic Dialogue on June 24, 2013. One of the key elements in the Fourth Dialogue was the track on defence and security cooperation. In the joint media interaction by the Minister/Secretary it was remarked that they, “talked about defence co-development, co-manufacture, co-purchase”.

As per the Fact Sheet issued on International Security, defense relationship encompasses military-to-military dialogues, exercises, defense sales, professional military education exchanges, and practical cooperation. Special mention was made in the Joint Statement of regular military training exercises, like the Army series Yudh Abhyas, which took place in May 2013, and the naval series Malabar planned for later this year.

The Joint Statement indicated that both countries are committed to maritime security, unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation, and the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law. A particular reference possibly in the context of the ASEAN mechanisms to China’s aggressive behavior in the  South China Sea and reluctance to evolve a common code of conduct for smooth passage of maritime trade. India and the US have consistently mentioned in the past that sea lines of communication are a part of the global commons and thus free for unhindered trade. Towards this end India also welcomed the entry of the United States to the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) as a Dialogue Partner in November 2012, and the United States welcomed India’s Observer status to the Arctic Council in May 2013.

While there are multiple tracks of defence engagement, the main focus for the US has been defence sales. Indo US defense trade has reached nearly $9 billion. The Fact Sheet found  mention of expansion in bilateral defence trade and induction of C-130J and C-17 aircraft into the Indian Air Force and of the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft into the Indian Navy. The latter two has just begun with the first of the fleet landing in India just before the Dialogue indicating that this was an issue that was being pursued at the highest level in the United States. They are now hoping that the buyer-seller relationship could be converted into a collaborative one.
Induction of C-130J and C-17 aircraft into the Indian Air Force and of the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft into the Indian Navy have been the main achievements of the past year. India is planning to order six more C-130 J special operations aircraft and 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers. Commercial negotiations for 22 Boeing Apache Longbow strike helicopters ($1.2 billion) and 15 heavy-lift Boeing CH Chinook helicopters ($1.4 billion) for the Indian Air Force are presently ongoing. Meanwhile delivery of 10 - C 17 Globemaster III is likely to be completed by June 2015 and the buzz is that 10 more may be on order. The main focus from the Indian side is on developing a model of co-development, co-manufacture and co-purchase.
In his Remarks on the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership at the India Habitat Centre, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised India’s, “defense preparedness, combating narcotics, counterterrorism, and confronting radical, violent extremists”. He also assured that US and India were working jointly to achieve the aim of the entry of India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group. He assured United States, “support India’s full membership in these groups, as well as an expanded UN Security Council with India as a permanent member”. India’s updating of the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technology (SCOMET) list in March 2013 is expected to facilitate an entry into the organizations that are dealing with conventional and dual use arms and weapons systems

Admiral Samuel J.Locklear, Commander, US Pacific Command called on Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Air Staff at Air Headquarters. A Press Information Bureau release stated that the visit saw issues such as - regional security, South China Sea being discussed, besides a review of growing US-India Security and Defence relationship. Admiral Locklear is part of the delegation that is accompanying US Secretary of State John Kerry for the 4th India- US Strategic Dialogue.

The meeting is also significant as reports in the Times of India recently stated that Indian Ministry of Defence has rejected the proposal for a permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee which would have facilitated a single point contact for visiting foreign military dignitaries. India on the other hand generally follows the lead service concept, thus a visiting military dignitary meets the commander of the lead service. In normal course Admiral Locklear would have met up with the Indian Navy Chief, Admiral D K Joshi being the lead service with US Pacific Command’s interest in the Indian Ocean region. Does this signify any change in the Ministry of Defence’s rejection of a permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee remains to be seen? Meanwhile the Business Standard reported that Minister of Defence Mr A K Antony has turned down a request by Admiral Locklear for a meeting citing protocol.

For the United States, the efforts to recover the remains of U.S. service members from World War II assume significance and hopefully some breakthrough in this direction will bring relief to the families of US servicemen who lost their lives on the Indo Burma front during the war years.

Mr K P Nayar, Daily Telegraph, Kolkata senior foreign policy correspondent based in Washington states in an article in the newspaper of 22 June that Admiral Locklear is likely to discuss with the Indian leadership the possibility of, “letting Indian forces use on a trial basis American equipment that is normally not given to non-treaty partners”.  The American gambit is that once the Indian military uses this equipment it would be attracted to buy the same thereby opening defence sales to India which at present are languishing at a total of about US $ 8 billion or so. As per Nayar an arrangement agreed upon between US Deputy defence secretary Ashton Carter and India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon the trial afforded to Indian military will overcome the challenges faced in US legislation on arms exports. Will this lead to more sales remains to be seen, for the Americans and also other foreign sellers have underestimated the complexity of India’s procurement system which is multilayered.

Defence and security is emerging as an important track in Indo US relations. Thus the subject was deliberated upon in great detail by the two foreign ministers with respective representatives from the defence side. While the defence relationship in the training and exercises track continues to be on a strong wicket the Americans are interested in expanding defence sales which have also picked up momentum with key American companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing pitching in with timely supply of air assets to the Indian Air Force in the recent past most particularly the C 17 and the C 130 J the latter used effectively for relief mission in Uttarakhand in June. How the track will progress beyond the buyer seller to a co-production and co-development model is what remains to be seen? For there are also legal challenges due to laws in the US in particular hindering transfer of key technologies that India wants.