Growing Indo-U.S. defense cooperation is one of the most important strategic partnerships of the 21st century which is likely to have profound impact on Asian and global politics in future. The U.S.’ growing defense partnership with India has multiple aims in mind. However, the broader efforts are aimed at containing China's growing influence around the world. Few add to this objective to keep the Muslim countries as an entity under check so as to address any concerns raised by the state of Israel. To achieve these objectives, the U.S. policymakers are terming this bilateral defense cooperation as “an anchor of global security”.1 Backed by Washington and Tel Aviv, and with improved ties with EU, Japan and Australia, New Delhi is working on the agenda of becoming a global power and assuming the role as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).2
Indo-U.S. Relations After 9/11
In 2001, it was President George W. Bush and his team laid the foundation for Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. The Next Steps for Strategic Partnership (NSSP) was signed in 2004. This led to signing of the New Framework for the Defense Relationship in 2005 for ten years. This milestone agreement set the stage for increasingly broad, complex and strategic cooperation. In December 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Hyde Act paving way for bilateral cooperation in the nuclear field. According to details, India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place all its civil resources under IAEA safeguards. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to work towards full civil nuclear cooperation with India. In 2006, the two governments signed the Indo-U.S. Framework for Maritime Security Cooperation. In 2010, they launched a bilateral Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative (CCI).3 Additional bilateral cooperation mechanisms include the Defense Policy Group (DPG) and its subgroups, the Defense Procurement and Production Group (DPPG), the Senior Technology Security Group (STSG), the Joint Technical Group (JTG), and the Military Cooperation Group (MCG) and its Executive Steering Groups (ESGs) in an annual meeting of senior officers of the two countries’ armies, navies, and air forces.4 In 2016 the U.S. designated India a “Major Defense Partner,” to make India a de-facto major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, without using that term. The new designation now allows India license-free access to dual-use technologies usually reserved for the U.S. allies, such as the Sea Guardian drones.
Military Equipment Provided to India and Ongoing Projects
Since 2008, the U.S. has provided more than USD 20 billion worth of state-of-the-art military equipment to India. While majority of the equipment has reached India, some is in the process of induction. The list includes twelve P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft while three are in the pipeline. In addition, the U.S. has provided sixty-three Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles and at least thirty-two Mk 57 and nineteen Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes to Indian Navy to boost its anti-surface and antisubmarine capabilities. Indian Navy has also finalized a deal to induct twenty-four Sikorsky MH-60R “Romeo” model Seahawk for Anti-Submarine Warfare at the cost of USD 2.6 billion. Indian Navy has also secured a deal to purchase thirteen Mk-45, 5-inch guns at the cost of USD 1.0210 billion. Meanwhile, Indian Air Force has received six C-130J, and ten C-17 heavy lift aircraft, while an additional C-17 is in pipeline. Indian Air Force has inducted twenty-two AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F (I) Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the U.S. It is important to note that “Indian industry partners such as Dynamatics are building large sections of Chinook, and the Tata Boeing joint venture in Hyderabad is building the complete fuselage of the Apache.”5 In addition, IAF has finalized a deal to procure two 777 Large Aircraft Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Self-Protection Suites at the cost of USD 190 million. Meanwhile Indian Army has also ordered another batch of six Apache helicopters. These Apache helicopters could carry anti-tank and anti-air weapons such as Hellfire and Stinger missiles. Over the years India has already purchased hundreds of these missiles while more are in the pipeline. India has also purchased one hundred and forty-five M-777 lightweight towed Howitzers from the U.S. Presently, 25 weapon systems made in America have been inducted by Indian Army, while Indian corporations will build the remaining 120 under license in India.6
In the meantime Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have partnered with Tata Power to jointly manufacture the world’s most advanced anti-tank guided missile, the 4,000-meter range “fire and forget” Javelin.7 India has also quietly approved a plan to induct the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS)-II through a government-to-government deal with U.S.8 According to details, U.S. has approved a Foreign Military Sale to India of an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System (IADWS), also called National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) for an estimated cost of $1.867 billion. As a result of the deal, India will receive: five AN/MPQ-64Fl Sentinel 3D mobile surveillance radar systems; 118 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air missile (AMRAAM) AIM-120C-7/C-8 missiles; three AMRAAM Guidance Sections; four AMRAAM Control Sections; and 134 Stinger FIM-92L missiles.9 Upset with India's $5.4 billion Moscow deal, the U.S. has offered Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) missile defense systems to India as an alternative to Russian S-400s.
Defense Technology and Trade Initiative
In 2012, the two countries signed the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). The main focus of the initiative was the co-production and co-development of military hardware including jet engines, and aircraft carrier technology. It was also aimed at fostering more sophisticated science and technology cooperation while short circuiting the bureaucratic processes and procedures.10 India and the U.S. initially agreed on four "pathfinder projects" under DTTI. The projects included next generation Raven Minis electric-powered UAVs, roll on and roll off kits for C-130, mobile electric hybrid power source and lightweight personal protective system (Uniform Integrated Protection Ensemble Increment-2). No progress could be made on Raven UAV and C-130 kits as Indian military establishment had reservations about the UAV and were not interested in C-130 kits. However, both countries also established the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG) and the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology (JWGACT). In July 2016 under the umbrella of DTTI, both countries also established five new joint working groups, including Naval Systems; Air Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Chemical and Biological Protection; and Other Systems.11 In 2018, U.S. proposed the joint production of a helmet-mounted digital display and a biological tactical detection system. In addition, two proposals were also made by American firms for the manufacturing of fighter jets under the 'Make in India' initiative.12
New Delhi has neither acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor accepted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on all of its nuclear material and facilities. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172, adopted after New Delhi’s 1998 nuclear tests, called on India to accede to the NPT and take other actions which New Delhi has refused, such as ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and refraining from developing nuclear capable ballistic missiles. Despite all this in 2015, India-U.S. upgraded their strategic defense partnership to the next level when both sides resolved key hurdles pertaining to the liability of suppliers of nuclear reactors in the event of an accident and tracking of nuclear fuel provided by the U.S. Both countries also renewed an enhanced Defense Framework Agreement for the next ten years.13 As a result of nuclear agreement in 2016, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and Westinghouse of the U.S. started preparatory work for six AP 1000 reactors to be built by an American firm in India.14 The Indian government in 2017 decided to increase the capacity of six AP-1000 reactors, to be built by U.S.’ Westinghouse Co in Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh, to 1208 MW each.15 The progress on the project is slow owing to Westinghouse bankruptcy in 2017. However, the deal clearly demonstrates the U.S.’ commitment to help India to master nuclear technology use for multiple purposes.
There are four Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Multilateral Export Control regimes namely; Missile Technology Control regime (MTCR), Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement.16 Following Washington’s urging, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided in 2008 to exempt India from the portions of its export guidelines that required India to have comprehensive IAEA safeguards. The U.S. subsequently agreed to support India’s membership in the group. According to a November 8, 2010, White House fact sheet, the U.S. “intends to support India’s full membership” in the NSG, as well as the Missile Technology Control regime (MTCR), the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement.17 In June 2016, the U.S. got India inducted into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) club of 34 countries. This would allow India to import and export missiles, drones and dual use technology from member states without restrictions.
Naval exercise Malabar between the U.S. and Indian navies has become a regular feature since 2007 and has occurred annually since then, taking place alternatively in the Western Pacific and off India’s coast. In 2015, Japanese naval units rejoined the exercise after an eight-year gap, establishing a more formal trilateral effort; 2016 Malabar exercises saw phases in both the East China and Philippine Seas, near contested South China Sea waters. With renewed talk of a “maritime quadrilateral” that would incorporate Australian naval forces, this exercise would formalize a “Quad bloc” against China. In 2015 Indo-U.S. Joint Strategic Vision Statement highlighted their shared maritime security interests in Indo-Pacific. As strategic interests continue to converge in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific regions in May 2016, Maritime Security Dialogue platform was inaugurated in New Delhi. During the meeting both sides exchanged perspectives on maritime security developments in the region and approved a “white shipping” agreement to share commercial shipping data. Starting from November 3, 2020 all members of the Quad, that is, U.S., India, Japan and Australia are participating in the latest series of Malabar Exercise. It is after 13 years that Australia has joined the exercise.18
The U.S. and Indian armies have also held annual Yudh Abhyas (training for war) exercises since 2004. Over time, these drills have grown from squad and platoon-level to company and battalion level exercises. The Indian Army and the U.S. Marine Corps have also participated in amphibious exercises. The U.S. and Indian Special Forces, meanwhile, have held a Balanced Iroquois training exercise. The U.S. and Indian Air Forces held their first of several “Cope India” bilateral exercises in 2004. The Indian Air Force has also participated in the U.S. led multilateral Red Flag exercises. These drills have mainly focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and air-to-air combat.
There are three foundational American defense agreements: Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), and the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). The U.S. law requires that certain sensitive defense technologies can only be transferred to recipient countries that have signed the COMCASA and/or the BECA. In August 2016, India and the U.S. signed bilateral deal on military logistics exchange, known as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The agreement primarily covered four areas — port calls, joint exercises, training and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Any other requirement has to be agreed upon by both sides on case to case basis.19
To further strengthen the defense as well as bilateral relations, on September 6, 2018, 2+2 dialogue meeting took place among the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis and their Indian counterparts, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman. After the meeting both sides signed Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). COMCASA would allow the U.S. to supply India with its proprietary encrypted communications equipment and systems, allowing secure peacetime and wartime communication between high-level military leaders on both sides. COMCASA would also extend this capability to Indian and the U.S. military assets, including aircraft and ships. The agreement would enable encrypted communications between the countries' militaries on American-made systems, which include the P-8I, Sea Guardian drones, the M777 ultra-light howitzers and the Apache AH-64E attack helicopters.
COMCASA would also enhance interoperability between the two militaries. As a consequence of COMCASA, India will get access to Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS), the secure communication system network of the U.S. In the future Indian ships with CENTRIXS systems on board would be able to communicate securely with the U.S. Navy when needed and can benefit from the wider situational picture of the region as they have a large number of ships and aircraft deployed. Additionally, the deal has enabled India to purchase classified state-of-the-art American communication equipment without a hitch.
On October 27, 2020, 2+2 dialogue meeting took place among the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and their Indian counterparts, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh. After the meeting both sides singed Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) at New Delhi. According to details, BECA would provide India with geo-spatial information. It will allow India to access the U.S. advanced geospatial intelligence networks. This will also allow both countries to exchange topographic data including maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other imagery, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data. Resultantly, India will have accurate satellite imagery of the whole region. This will not only help India to have better Battle Space Awareness but will also allow New Delhi to hit targets deep into Pakistan and China with precision.
Implication for Peace
The U.S. is the world's pre-eminent maritime power as it controls and dominates the world sea lanes of communication. The U.S. Navy has the world's largest fleet of eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. These carriers serve as the centerpieces and flagships for the Navy's Carrier Strike Groups, with their embarked Carrier Air Wings and accompanying ships and submarines, which strongly contribute to the U.S.’ ability to project force around the globe. The U.S. Navy with this strong Naval Force has the capabilities to control global commercial and energy sea routes. However, with faltering economy the U.S. is finding it difficult to maintain such a huge navy. Meanwhile, China’s rise as economic powerhouse of Asia and growing naval power is viewed with great suspicion by the U.S. policymakers. China’s rise as soft power coupled with its Belt and Road and Maritime Silk Route initiatives, to integrate countries across Asia and Europe runs contrary to the U.S.’ global interests. The U.S.’ chief foreign policy priority is to prevent the rise of a power that could challenge American primacy in Eurasia. Since China’s increasing power is likely to challenge American supremacy not only on land but at sea in future, therefore, the U.S. is trying to not only to contain China but also wants to roll back its growing influence in Asia and beyond.
India sits astride the Indian Ocean, creating with its inverted triangular shape the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Due to its geographical position, size, population and large navy it considers Indian Ocean as an “Indian Lake”. India has the aspiration to become a global power. To achieve this end, India must maintain dominance over South Asia and the Indian Ocean. However, China’s milestone infrastructures such as Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, Sino-Maldives Friendship Bridge in Malé and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are challenging New Delhi’s hegemonic designs in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Apart from this, New Delhi has ongoing territorial disputes with its nuclear armed neighbours China and Pakistan. Since CPEC is likely to integrate the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia with Western China through Pakistan, this would bring enormous economic benefits to the region and make Pakistan pivot of Asia.
The U.S. is an empire which wants to maintain its political and economic dominance of the world. However due to economic constraints, it cannot contain China at its own; doing so would exhaust its resources and leave it vulnerable to challenges from potential rivals. As a consequence, it is using its military, economic and political influence to exploit regional rivalry between India and China/Pakistan. Indian Ocean is the most important ocean as majority of world energy is transported through it to Europe and East Asia. Similarly, Indo Pacific is a vast expanse of water connecting Eastern and Western Hemisphere. Dominance of Indo Pacific region is an American foreign policy priority; for the purpose the U.S. has revived Quadrilateral Security Group comprising the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.
From the above, it is evident that mutual suspicion about China has forced the U.S. and India to forge closer defense and security partnership. India and China share a 4,057 kilometer (2,520-mile) contested border with each other up in Himalayas. Since the area comprises mountainous region, therefore, majority of the military hardware provided by the U.S. cannot be used as large scale armour as well as infantry military operations cannot be undertaken.
In these circumstances provision of state-of-the-art military equipment by the U.S. to New Delhi is not only going to tilt conventional military balance further in favour of India as far as Pakistan is concerned. But it is believed that in future BECA/COMCASA would provide secure battlefield transparency in all domains i.e., land, air and sea to Indian forces in the future. This would allow India to use its proactive strategy of Cold Start with more precision and lethality against Pakistan in the future. Similarly, provision of state-of-the-art American air defense system would erode existing minimum nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan. Indo-U.S. defense cooperation on the face of it appears to be aimed against China but actually it will hit Pakistan.
The writer is a retired Vice Admiral and the former Ambassador of Pakistan to Maldives.
E-mail: [email protected]
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