Military ties between the U.S. and India haven’t ever been as strong as they are now. In fact, the current Indo-US engagements have further gathered momentum as America’s patience with Pakistan has clearly run out. In fact, the US tilt towards India started at the time of President Clinton, who was clearly upset with Pakistan’s Kargil intrusions and the conflict that followed. And with a change of guard expected in Washington soon, Mr Modi and his ministers are keen to formalise the next steps in this strategic partnership – but not an alliance – with the pro India President Obama and his team. No wonder then that India’s defence minister preponed his recent visit to the U.S., and the US Secretary of State along with its Commerce Secretary have all made visits to India, to wrap up pending issues.
Today, even though much of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin – with many items having lived their operating life – the US is now India’s major defence supplier of military weapon systems from heavy strategic lift aircrafts to the soon to be bought Predator drones. In the recent past, India has acquired potent US made weapons like 12 C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft ($2 billion), eight P-8I longrange maritime patrol aircraft ($2.1 billion) and ten C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft ($4.1 billion), with the India-US defence relationship having crossed the $14 billion mark.
In 2015, when Mr Modi was in the US, both countries agreed on a new ten year Defence Framework Agreement, to strengthen the Indo-US strategic partnership which was initially negotiated in 2005. The highlights of the Indo-US defence framework agreement includes knowledge partnership in defence studies, military to military personnel exchanges, Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) and maritime security, all important aspects of Defence Framework Agreement (“U.S.-India Defense Framework”).
The Defence Technology and Trade Initiative is created to boost defence trade and cooperation between both the countries coupled with the possible elimination of bureaucratic hurdles, which has been a long time obstacle for the modernisation of the Indian Armed forces. The flexible DTTI mechanism has allowed cooperation in technological collaboration for joint development and production of weapons and also expand India-US business relations. Under the DTTI mechanism, India and U.S. have proposed four pathfinder projects in the short term and working groups on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology cooperation have also been set up. Additionally, the DTTI is seen to complement the Make In India campaign of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But more than arms sales, the US is keen that India should operate its forces along with U.S. troops, where the strategic interests of both countries are aligned. Washington is thus keen to push for the finalisation of the three parts of the Foundation Agreements, of which the first, Logistics Exchange Memorandum (LEMOA), is in place, allowing both sides to use each other’s bases on a case by case basis. The other two, a Communication, Interoperability and Security Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), are still to be ironed out.
Indian officials are however still unsure how far to go into America’s grasp, and so are many hard-nosed critics of how the U.S. does business. But India’s decades long policy of buying from here there and everywhere has created an ‘ad hoc arsenal’, which has its merits – like the non dependence on one partner – but also demerits, leading to the most recent Scorpene snafu, that has certainly compromised some key elements of these submarines. But technology apart, there seems to be no serious strategic alternative for India, to counter the China- Pakistan nexus.