India will have a military attaché in the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain, defence ministry officials said on condition of anonymity, highlighting what they term a “path-breaking” development that signals deeper defence cooperation between the two countries.
The officials added that the Pentagon has also agreed to have an Indian military representative at the Defence Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), a US government unit that funds private companies working on cutting-edge defence technologies.
According to the officials, the decisions were finalised during defence secretary Sanjay Mitra’s visit last week to the Pentagon, during which India and the US also decided to jointly participate in tri-service amphibious exercises off the Indian coast (including in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) as well as increasing the scope of trilateral naval exercises with the Japanese Navy in the Indo-Pacific. The decision to include the Australian Navy to make it a quadrilateral exercise is still a work in progress.
The bilateral decision to post an Indian defence attaché at the Bahrain Command has huge ramifications as NAVCENT’s area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea. Comprising the Fifth Fleet and other forces, this Command is in charge of naval operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the oil-rich Gulf countries. It is also the lead player in anti-piracy and counter-terrorist operations conducted by the Combined Task Force 150 and 158.
Defence ministry officials said the Indian attaché in Bahrain will ensure that the US and Indian navies are on the same page. New Delhi’s perception of the Indo-Pacific is the area from the Gulf of Aden to the west coast of America. The Indian attaché will ensure better coordination and logistic support for warships and aircraft carriers of the two countries.
The officials said that the idea of posting a representative in the DIUx is to gain first-hand experience on how the Pentagon and the private sector work together for national security. This unit identifies and invests in companies, including start-ups that fulfil US Department of Defense hardware or software requirements. The Indian representative will be able to identify solutions for the Indian military and explore which ones could work under the “Make in India” rubric.
As a sign of increasing naval cooperation, the two countries are all for raising the complexity of the exercises, fostering joint training and validating standard operating procedures for amphibious operations. On December 21, the Indian Navy conducted a tri-services exercise off the coast of Kakinada in the Eastern Naval Command with landing ships from Andaman Nicobar Command participating in the manoeuvres. With South Block taking administrative steps towards integrated theatre commands, the Andamans Command will soon become the hub of Indian Navy’s might in the Indian Ocean in order to ensure that sea lanes of communications are not obstructed and freedom of navigation is unhampered by any third aggressive power.
Interestingly, in US Navy’s definition, India comes under Hawaii-based Pacific Command. Delhi, for the past two decades, has pushed for a liaison with NAVCENT because the latter is responsible for the Arabian Sea.