US-India defence ties: Will India remain a key defence ally for the US? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 12 December 2016

US-India defence ties: Will India remain a key defence ally for the US?

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Dec 16

A senior American official describes a recent meeting between US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who have already met seven times since the latter was appointed in November 2014. Despite their relentless efforts to invigorate the US-India defence partnership, lamented Carter, there was always more to be done.

He concluded by likening this to Zeno’s Paradox.

“There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. We shuffled our feet and tried to look like we knew the first thing about Zeno’s Paradox”, says the US official.

Then, to relief all around, Parrikar broke the silence with the comment that Zeno’s Paradox was indeed a good description. The Indian Institute of Technology graduate explained that the ancient Greek had postulated, in his Dichotomy Paradox, that a destination could never be reached because, one had first to reach the half-way mark; at which point half the journey still remained. When one covered half of that, half still remained. In this manner, there would always be half of some distance remaining to be covered, howsoever small. Thus, the journey could never be completed. QED.

Such was the peculiar bond between Carter, a technocrat and academic; and Parrikar, an engineer and politician, who both were convinced that a close defence relationship was vital for both Washington and New Delhi. Over the last two years, they have set course pragmatically, steering over speed bumps and obstacles, to achieve a number of successes that testify to the solidity of the relationship. Amongst them are the “Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship”, signed in 2015; and a long postponed “Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement” (LEMOA) signed this year.

In addition, Carter and Parrikar have solidified an entire edifice of discussion bodies, providing forums in which Washington and New Delhi’s bureaucracies negotiated the new relationship. Some of them like the apex Defence Policy Group (DPG) and the Military Cooperation Group (MCG) pre-dated the current ministers.

But the real driver of the relationship was the newly created Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which explored co-development programmes that had the potential to really build trust and overcome decades of suspicion between the two new partners. Also created by Carter in the Pentagon was an India Rapid Reaction Cell that processed India-related issues on priority.

With Carter due to demit office in late-January, all this hung in the balance. The India policy was an initiative of the Obama administration, and there was no certainty that it would be followed up by President-elect Donald Trump, and his chosen defence secretary, General James Mattis.

Even before Trump won the election, questions were being asked about whether Hillary Clinton would accord New Delhi the priority that Obama’s administration had done. Obama’s successor, or another president down the line, could easily have reversed course, walking away from the DTTI, shutting down the India Rapid Reaction Cell, and abandoning the idea that India was a special partner, vital to Washington’s interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

This uncertainty was removed with the passage of the National Defence Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA 2017), in which Section 1292 is headed “Enhancing Defence and Security Cooperation with India”. Over the last fortnight, NDAA passed the House of Representatives (375-34) and the Senate (92-7). When Obama signs NDAA 2017 into law this week, the US-India partnership will be enshrined in US legislation, binding every succeeding administration, whatever its inclinations, to treat India as a “major defence partner”.

While the US Congress was (as the voting pattern indicates) solidly behind the India legislation, it would have been tempting fate to introduce it as a standalone “US-India Partnership Bill”. Most small bills introduced in the US Congress disappear without a trace into what is essentially a legislative black hole that has time only for the really big things --- and sometimes not even for those. So, like many other strongly supported legislations, the US-India legislation was made to piggy-back on the NDAA 2017, which must be passed each year since it allocates funding for the American defence forces.

This was the method followed to legislate the US-Israel defence partnership, which has ensured that Israel remains the pre-eminent military power in West Asia. In 2008, a similar amendment, the Naval Vessel Transfer Act, contained the clause that still binds Washington to ensuring that Israel enjoys a “qualitative military edge” over every potential adversary.

Effectively, the bill enjoins the US secretaries of defence and state to recognise India as a “major defence partner of the US”. It mandates the appointment of an official to pursue the Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, a ten-year agreement signed in 2015, which lays down an elaborate agenda for the US-India defence partnership.

New Delhi will be carefully watching who the Trump administration appoints; the official’s seniority and influence would be an indicator of how important the new president considers the US-India relationship.

The India section also enshrines the DTTI and the India Rapid Reaction Cell into US law. This means the continuation of the US-India development projects that were taken up under the DTTI last year: joint development of the Indian Navy’s next-generation aircraft carrier, INS Vishal; and the crucial high-temperature “hot section” of an experimental jet engine.

Official sources in Washington and New Delhi are whispering about a new big-ticket project about to be announced under the DTTI. There is speculation this might involve building a jet fighter in India.

The passage of the legislation was not without drama. In summer, the House of Representatives had passed NDAA 2017, along with an “India amendment” introduced by Representative George Holding. But, due to infighting in the Senate over a barely connected matter, the India amendment was left out of NDAA 2017.

Eventually, the House-Senate conference that met to reconcile the two versions of the NDAA 2017, agreed to include the India amendment in the final version. This is a measure of India’s influence on Capitol Hill and a stark reversal from the days when most legislations relating to South Asia were directed at providing Pakistan exceptions from sanctions over its clandestine nuclear project, its trampling of democracy through military coups, and its support to terrorist groups.


Consistent defence cooperation frameworks:

2005 New Framework for US-India Defence Relationship
2015 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship

Shared values
Agree on political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, rule of law and security
Common democratic values, long-term strategic convergence and shared national interests
Security objectives
Maintaining security and stability, defeating terrorism and violent extremism, preventing spread of weapons of mass destruction and protecting free flow of commerce.
Maintaining peace and security, defeating terrorism and violent extremism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, establishing a rule-based order and protecting free flow of commerce.
Action plan
Regular joint exercises, collaborate in multinational operations when in common interest, interaction with other countries to promote stability.
Regular joint and combined exercises, collaborate in multinational operations when in common interests, enhance military training and exchanges, strengthen capabilities to defeat terrorism, interaction with other countries to promote stability,
Intelligence sharing
Increase exchanges of intelligence
Increase exchanges of intelligence
Combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
Enhance capabilities to prevent the proliferation of WMD
Defence trade
Expand two-way defence trade, to strengthen security, reinforce the strategic partnership, achieve greater interaction and cooperation between armed forces and build understanding between defence establishments.
Continue to strengthen two-way defence trade, to strengthen security, reinforce the strategic partnership, achieve greater interaction and cooperation between armed forces and build understanding between defence establishments.
Technology transfer
Increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production and R&D.
Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), set up in 2013, to align systems, smoothen inflow of US technology, co-production and co-development.
Missile defence
Expand collaboration in missile defence
Explore collaboration relating to missile defence
Non-kinetic ops
Build capacity for HADR, peacekeeping operations,
Strengthen military capacity for HADR, build worldwide capacity for PKO
Structures for Interaction
DPG to be primary forum for interaction. JWG set up to conduct mid-year review of DPG’s work
Detailed structures and dialogue sub-groups laid down under DPG, including: DPPG, STSG, JTG, MCG, ESGs

DPG                :           Defence Policy Group (Primary mechanism to guide defence partnership)

DPPG              :           Defence Procurement and Production Group (Reviews G2G acquisitions)

STSG              :           Senior Technology Security Group (Develop understanding of US licensing and security procedures)

JTG                 :           Joint Technical Group (To coordinate joint defence research and production)

MCG               :           Military Cooperation Group (Guides cooperation between the two militaries)

ESG                 :           Executive Steering Groups (For army-to-army, navy-to-navy and air force-to-air force cooperation under MCG)


Key features of India amendment to NDAA 2017

India is a “major defence partner of the United States”.

US official to monitor success of 10-year “Defence Framework Agreement”.

Strengthen “Defence Trade and Technology Initiative” (DTTI) and “India Rapid Reaction Cell”.

Combined US-India military planning for non-combat missions

Promote US-India weapons interoperability

Enhanced engagement in threat analysis, military doctrine, force planning, mutual security interests, logistical support, intelligence, tactics, techniques and procedures.

Facilitate exchanges of senior military officers.

Enhance cooperation with India “to advance United States interests in the South Asia and greater Indo-Asia-Pacific regions”

Develop “mutually agreeable mechanisms” to verify security of US-supplied defence equipment and technology

Annual report to Congress on how the US government is supporting defence ties



  1. Thanks for the extensive coverage On US INDIA relations, we can revisit it when Secretary Mattis comes down and has an awkward meeting with Def Min Parrikar, but enjoys his impromptu professional talk with some young Col or Brig who has actually shot a round in anger.

    Now can we please get back to interesting and Important topics taht actually affects the Sailors,Airmen and Soldiers and the respective services.


  2. America already has an ally in this sub-continent. Its name is Pakistan. It is Pakistan's job to prevent the russians from accessing a warm water port(s) through any of the indian coasts.

    The americans get to restrict the russians from getting into a real strategic alliance with the Indians. In return, the pakistanis get the assurance of the survival of the Pakistani state from any possibilities.

    You see, the US partnership with Pakistan has nothing to do with the indo-pak conflict. Rather, it has everything to do with the US-russian conflict.

    The balance cannot be broken unless the russians and Indians sit together and agree on a long-term plan.

  3. No one cares . . . except US defense industry and white nationalists


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