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During the recent visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin to India, the two sides have agreed to initiate negotiations for a ‘Security of Supply’ (SoS) arrangement and a ‘Reciprocal Defence Procurement’ (RDP) agreement which will promote long-term supply chain stability.
They also concluded a roadmap for ‘Defence Industrial Cooperation’ which will guide the policy direction for the next few years.
In addition, capacity building, including Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), strategic infrastructure and infra development as well as U.S. companies setting up Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities in India were top among the issues during the talks.
Trajectory of the Cooperation
The establishment of the ‘New Framework for India-US Defence Relations’ in 2005 marked the official beginning of comprehensive defense cooperation between India and the US. This milestone propelled an intensified level of collaboration in multiple areas, encompassing defense trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy operations, as well as cooperative exchanges among the armies, navies, and air forces of both nations.
The Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation of 2013 further elevated the defence relationship to the level of that of ‘closest partners’ in which, India and the US pledged to cooperate in areas such as defence technology transfer, licensing, trade, research, co-production and co-development. The agreement paved the way for cooperation in advanced and sophisticated technology in the defence sector.
The Framework Agreement of 2005 got renewed in 2015 and opened more pathways of cooperation through dialogue mechanisms, military-to-military exchanges and partnerships.
In 2016, the United States acknowledged India as a “Major Defence Partner,” demonstrating a substantial commitment to enabling technology sharing with India at a level equivalent to its closest allies and partners. MDP status accords India’s special standing for two reasons: first, it is codified by US law; and second, it “elevates defence trade and technology cooperation between the US and India to a level commensurate with the closest allies and partners of the US.
India, in turn, established a ‘2+2 ministerial dialogue’ with the US in 2018 which has been pivotal in institutionalising the bilateral defence relationship.
India was added to the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) list of the US in 2018, which has been critical to easing export controls for high-technology product sales to India by the US.
India became eligible for funding under the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) Maritime Security Initiative in 2019 which conducts capacity-building in the Indo-Pacific.
Framework and Initiatives
Four foundational agreements
The four foundational agreements regarding India-US defence cooperation, which marks a strategic shift in India’s operational capacities in the Indo-Pacific region, are as follows:
General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA): Signed in 2002, to facilitate sharing military intelligence between India and the USA.
Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA): Signed in 2016, to use each other’s military base to carry out repairs and for resupplying.
Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA): Signed in 2018, to share and secure communications exchange between 2 nations during training exercises and operations.
Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA): Signed in 2020, to share high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps and the exchange of geospatial information between the two nations.
The foundational agreements provide the necessary ecosystem for translating the security partnership to regional influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
It is intended to focus senior U.S. and Indian leadership on real opportunities and challenges associated with strengthening the defense partnership.
While DTTI is not a treaty or law, it elevates the commitment to defense trade, helps eliminate bureaucratic obstacles, accelerates timelines, promotes collaborative technology exchange, strengthens cooperative research, and enables the co-production/co-development of defense systems for the sustainment and modernization of the military forces.
Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET)
The Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technology is an interlinked framework led by the National Security Councils of both countries, designed to enhance collaboration in key and emerging technologies.
The primary goals of the iCET are to enhance strategic technology partnerships and to foster greater cooperation between India and the US in the defence industry. an interlinked framework for cooperation on critical and emerging technologies.
It was launched by the US President and Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the Quad Summit in 2022.
Some of the key technology sectors identified under the initiative include defense, semiconductor supply chains, space, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The initiative in addition identified areas such as biotechnology, advanced materials, and rare earth processing technology.
Starting with the Malabar exercises in 1992, India and the USA have also expanded the scope of bilateral cooperation. Some of the key bilateral and multilateral exercises are:
|Tarkash||Bilateral||Counterterrorism and CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear)|
|Vajra Prahar||Bilateral||Military Training; Airborne and counterterrorism|
|Yudh Abhyas||Bilateral||Military Training and Exchanges|
|Spitting Cobra||Bilateral||Naval training|
|Red Flag||Multilateral||Air exercise|
|Cope India||Bilateral||Air force|
|Habu Nag||Bilateral||Amphibious training exercise|
India seeks to modernise its military by acquiring sensitive and advanced technologies necessary for its own national ambitions and regional interests. The recent visit of the US defense Secretary was majorly focused on this objective where the discussion was about General Electric’s proposal to share technology with India for fighter jet engines and India’s plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc, besides other issues.
India hopes to bridge its capacity-capability deficit by developing home-grown know-how and skill sets in both the armed forces and the defence industry through specific programmes of co-production and co-development under the Indian Government’s vision of “Make in India”.
China’s aggressive emergence in the Indo-Pacific with its growing intent, and capability has reshaped the regional balance of power in its favour. It has led to a strategic play in the region to secure a favourable balance of power by creating pockets of incremental influence. Hence, India’s defence partnership with the US makes up for its power and capability shortcomings vis-à-vis China. QUAD initiative has also been launched in this direction.
The defence cooperation between India and the US has been geopolitically challenged from time to time such as India’s historical ties with Russia and the ongoing détente between China and the US. But the relationship is important for both commercial and strategic reasons for India as well as for the US. The United States has been worried about Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific whereas, India looks at the relationship for its self-reliance through Atmanirbhar Bharat as well as to counter Chinese aggression along its border. A strong defence partnership with the US will bolster India’s regional strategic capacity to meet threats in the Indo-Pacific.