In the wake of the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Doklam region and the recent comments of the Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping, India is looking at closer strategic ties with the United States and the coming two-by-two dialogue in Washington DC where the US secretaries of State and Defence will meet the Indian Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister, will be a way forward.
India and the United States have identified seven areas of closer military-strategic cooperation between the two countries; the first efforts towards actualising them have begun.
India and the United States armed forces are planning a bilateral amphibious exercise in the near future. The place is yet to be finalised but the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is one option. Naturally, force levels will have to be decided upon, but an amphibious exercise suggests that the navy, the army and perhaps, the air force could all be involved. India has done exercises involving all three services only with the Russians and that too, recently.
India is also likely to send a defence attache (a senior armed forces officer) to the US Central Command headquarters in Bahrain. This is being seen as a significant development as India comes under the US Pacific Command. Interestingly, Pakistan is part of the central command domain and the presence of an Indian officer in Bahrain will allow India to place more inputs on Pakistan to the US authorities.
India and the United States are ready to cooperate more closely on what is being called MARITIME DOMAIN AWARENESS. This basically means dividing areas of responsibility and sharing operational and intelligence details. This would relate to information about ships, particularly potentially threatening developments and the presence of “rogue” ships.
India and the United States are ready to sign an Industrial Security Agreement. This will be particularly relevant in the cases of co-production and Make in India. The USA is already keen to manufacture the F-16 and F-18 fighter planes in India if the Indian Air Force is keen on buying them. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues will be involved in the agreement.
Top government sources also said that two ‘foundational’ agreements — the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) are now under serious discussion. In the past, the latter agreement was not considered acceptable by the UPA government because it was considered too “intrusive.” Signing them, if that happens, is a distance away, but that fact they are under discussion is another sign of the growing closeness between the two countries.
India and the United States will be part of a South-east Asian HADR or Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief hub. This is an area that has faced disturbances like the tsunamis and increasingly, typhoons. The presence of India and the US in SE Asia will help to cement growing ties with ASEAN countries and importantly, offset China’s growing influence in the area. The hub will be in SE Asia.
India and the USA have also decided to set up a joint Defence Innovation Centre where scientists of both countries could work together. This will facilitate the transfer of military technology to strengthen the Indian armed forces. Just where it will be is yet to be decided, but it is likely to be somewhere in India.