New Delhi: India and the US on Tuesday agreed to boost their defence ties, with the latter willing to share some of its most advanced technologies with Asia’s third largest economy.
Not only does it deepen the strategic ties between the two countries, it is also seeks to counter the rapid and unpredictable rise of China and combat cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
US defence secretary James Mattis, who is on a two-day visit to India, also discussed with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman broadening maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as well as eradicating safe havens for terrorism. Mattis is the first cabinet representative from the Trump administration to visit India since the new administration took office in January. It comes after an endorsement by the Trump administration of the designation of India as a major defence partner by the previous Obama administration last year—signalling a continuity in US policy toward India.
In his comments after talks with Sitharaman, Mattis said the designation of India as a major defence partner reflected the recognition of India as a “pillar of regional stability and security."
As two democracies, India and the US have “a historic opportunity to set a refreshed partnership," Mattis said noting that their defence ties had steadily expanded in recent years—“underpinned by a strategic convergence" based on common goals and objectives.
“We also discussed ways to further deepen the robust defence trade and technology collaboration between our defence industries," Mattis said adding that the US was looking forward to “sharing some of our most advanced defence technologies" with India.
“Cooperation in this area will improve the capabilities of both our militaries and reinforce the foundation for an enduring partnership," Mattis said.
Following the conclusion of the landmark India-US nuclear deal in 2008 that reversed decades of embargoes against India procuring technologies for its civilian nuclear power industry from the global market, the two countries had identified cooperation in defence as the next big idea to consolidate ties. India is at present looking to manufacture F-16 and F-18A fighter planes under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign, aimed at ramping up its manufacturing sector, attracting foreign companies to use India as a base for manufacturing their products. The Trump administration is seen as keen to sell F-18 and F-16 fighter planes to India, built by American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin respectively. The two sides are also looking to identify new projects under the ambitious Defence Technology and Trade Initiatives (DTTI). In the past decade, India has bought US weapons systems worth an estimated $15 billion, moving away from traditional supplier Russia. In her remarks, Sitharaman said the two countries needed to expand “on the progress already made (in defence collaboration) by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts. I reiterated India’s deep interest in enhancing defence manufacturing in India ... I thank Secretary Mattis for his supportive position in this regard."
Sitharaman said that she and Mattis had also focussed on re-energizing the DTTI “as a mechanism to promote technology sharing as well as co-development and co-production efforts."
According to Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College London, “Defence ties have been growing rapidly between the two democracies and have been one of the most important factors propelling the relationship." The ambitious DTTI is the “key platform to elevate the Indo-US defence relationship from a buyer-seller engagement to a partnership model, working to co-develop and produce key defence technologies," Pant said.
The two sides also discussed regional issues including the new US policy towards Afghanistan unveiled last month by US President Donald Trump. Sitharaman said India would increase its development cooperation in Afghanistan but would not send troops there. Mattis, who is to leave New Delhi for Kabul on Wednesday morning, said that the two countries would work together to fight terrorism. “There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens," he said adding: “As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge."