Major defence collaboration in work to manufacture sophisticated, modern equipment in India: US official

Washington: A major India-US bilateral defence collaboration is in the works for India to make sophisticated modern defence equipment, the Biden administration’s point person for South and Central Asia said on Thursday, hoping an announcement regarding this will be made in the next few months.

“I think it makes eminent sense for India to produce world-class defence equipment for its own needs, and potentially as an exporter, for the world,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu told PTI in an interview.

The senior State Department official, however, refrained from giving details of the major defence collaboration to manufacture modern and sophisticated defence equipment in India.

“We are already major partners in the defence field. We, over the last 20 years, have had a defence trade of over USD 20 billion. And I know our private companies and our governments, our ministries of defence are talking on a regular basis about how we cooperate,” he said.

Lu pointed out that last April during the Two Plus Two Dialogue involving India’s Minister of Defence and External Affairs Minister and their American counterparts Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State, for the first time there was American support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative.

“We can see that India is shifting away from dependency on other countries and looking to produce defence supplies, and defence equipment in India itself and that’s a process we strongly support. And I hope in the coming months that you will see announcements, a major collaboration between our countries for sophisticated, modern, capable defence equipment that will be made in India,” Lu told PTI in response to a question.

This is “absolutely part” of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (ICET) Dialogue that was launched by India’s National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, he noted.

“But it’s something we have been working on now for several years with India. I think you’ll see this year ahead will be pivotal in terms of our defence cooperation,” he said.

Lu, however, refrained from giving any other details. “I think that’s as much as I’m able to say in detail. But it will be exciting. And I hope by the end of the year that we will have a more detailed discussion about what those specific defence cooperation items are,” he said.

According to an Indian Embassy fact sheet, India-US defence cooperation is based on the “New Framework for India-US Defence Cooperation”, which was renewed for a period of ten years in 2015.

In 2016, the defence relationship was designated as a Major Defence Partnership (MDP) to build a comprehensive, enduring and mutually beneficial defence partnership.

On July 30, 2018, India was moved into the Tier-1 of the US Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorization license exception.

The Defence Policy Group (DPG) headed by the Defence Secretary and Under Secretary of Defence (Policy) provides a platform for a comprehensive review of defence dialogues/mechanisms.

In August 2022, a US Navy Ship (USNS) Charles Drew visited Chennai for repairs and allied services. This was the first-ever repair of a US Navy ship in India.

Several defence agreements have been signed, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (2016); the Memorandum of Intent between the US Defence Innovation Unit (DIU), and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation – Innovation for Defence Excellence (2018); Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (2018); Industrial Security Agreement (2019); Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (2020).

Bilateral exercises include Yudh Abhyas (Army); Vajra Prahar (Special Forces), and a tri-services exercise– Tiger Triumph (inaugurated in 2019).

India joined the multilateral Combined Maritime Force (CMF) based in Bahrain, as an Associate Partner in April 2022. In November 2022, the Australian Navy joined the US-India-Japan MALABAR annual Naval Exercise. The US participated in India’s multilateral Exercise Milan 2022.