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India United States Defence Partnership: Green Shoots In The Horizon

27/12/2014 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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President Barack Obama shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in the Oval Office  of the White House in Washington. President Barack Obama and India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Tuesday that "it is time to set a new agenda" between their countries, addressing concerns that the world's two largest democracies have grown apart. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

India-United States defence relationship is witnessing a much needed upward trajectory. The New Framework of Defence for US-India Defence Relationship, signed in 2005 by the then Indian Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ushered a new era which transformed the defence and security ties. Presently, both countries are discussing steps for renewing the defence agreement and enlarging the scope for greater cooperation in areas such as technology transfer, co-production and research and development. In the India-US Joint Statement, September 2014, signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama, the leaders stated their intention to expand defence cooperation treating each other at the same level as their closest partners on issues including defence technology transfers, trade, research, co-production and co-development. The joint statement also sets the tone for facilitating wider dialogue on export licensing and Indo-US cooperation on India's planned National Defense University.

The news of President Obama's arrival as the chief guest in India's Republic Day celebrations has already enlivened expectations of deeper cooperation, signalling India's significant relation with the world's oldest democracy. The new government in Delhi has engendered a positive momentum, visible in the high level exchanges imbued with a sense of cautious optimism in India's recalibrated economic growth. Some of these developments have heralded few green shoots in the horizon and provides an opportunity to take a fresh stock of India's strategic defence partnership with the US.

Strategic flux in the defence and security complexion in the region has made it imperative that India urgently strengthen its defence capabilities. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report of 2014, India being the largest defence importer accounted for 14 % of the total world's arm imports from 2009 to 2013. Initiatives such as 'Make in India' and increasing the FDI limit in defence sector to 49% has added momentum to the domestic defence industry since FDI equity inflows have remained low at an abysmal 0.002%. Several decades of defence ties with Russia have been unable to invigorate India's defence industry and can only be best described as a patron-client relationship. The lack of Indian defence indigenisation has led to an overwhelming dependence on imports which only adds a huge degree of strategic vulnerability of India.

Factors like a declining US military budget and changing geo-political landscape in Asia-Pacific have made India-US defence ties mutually symbiotic. As a part of its new Indo-Pacific strategy and the safety and stability of Asia, the US is committed to strengthening India in all major sectors of national development, especially defence. India has a burgeoning defence trade with the US of more than circa $9 billion. Recently, the Indian Army announced its decision to buy 16 Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk Helicopters for its multi-role helicopter requirement which is estimated worth $1 billion. Cutting edge weapons and technologies from the US is enabling India to adjust itself to a rapidly changing security environment emanating from both traditional and non-traditional security challenges. The US, in turn at a time when global defence budgets are declining, have found the largest market in India for defence exports and long-term growth potential for co-production and co-development. Exploring the prospects for co-production and co-development of defence equipments with US defence manufacturers are a welcome step for the Indian defence industry. Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military affairs, Puneet Talwar in a meeting in New Delhi, opined that the strong potential in Indo-US defence ties needs to be translated into action and reality.

The Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) is the centrepiece of Indo-US defence relationship and under this, the US has asked India to join in co-producing and co-developing a series of weapons and cutting edge technologies. Reportedly, India has short-listed five of the 17 items of military hardware offered by the US in order to expand the scope of bilateral defence cooperation. President Obama recently nominated Ashton Carter as the new Secretary of Defense, who has several times underscored the importance of Indo-US defence partnership. These recent developments in a micro-cosmic way portends to machinations of a more robust Indo-US defence relations.

As the US grapples with instability in the shadow of a deteriorating Afghan quagmire, the need for closer Indo-US ties with common political values and a strategic vision could not be over-emphasised. India-US have agreed to upgrade the existing naval Malabar Exercises, focus on increasing maritime security cooperation, expand military-to-military relationship across all services and deepen cooperation on defence trade and production. The hope is that these green shoots of positive developments in Indo-US defence ties are able to eventually incentivise indigenisation to make, design and export Indian-- building long term capability and self-sufficiency for India's defence preparedness.

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