Earlier this month two of the world’s largest democracies – India and the United States–exchanged strategic ‘handshakes’ even as India was designated as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the US. The outgoing US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter was in India where this unique status was bestowed on it strengthening bilateral ties between the countries. The status will mean deeper cooperation in defence trade and technology than ever before.

In fact, for over a decade now the defence sector has been at the forefront driving the Indo-US relationship. It was in 2005 that India and the US came up with a new Framework for India-US Defence Relations which led to growth in joint exercises, maritime security cooperation, action against piracy and above all a strengthening in defence trade in the last decade.

While there have been many speculations on what the Donald Trump victory could mean for India, it seems both the Obama and the Trump administration agree on one thing – that defence ties with India need to be maintained and strengthened. President Obama during his second term, in 2014 endorsed the India-U.S. Declaration on Defence Cooperation, a document of mutual promise of a long-term strategic partnership, “through which our countries cooperate to increase the security and prosperity of citizens and the global community.” While in 2015, his visit to India was fruitful leading to a 2015 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, like the earlier Framework this one provided principles for defence engagement for the coming decade.

Around his visit to India the US secretary Carter commented, “The US-India defence relationship is the closest it's ever been.” He isn’t off the mark. The past decade has been for India and the US, a time of growing closer in defence. To prove the strengthening of this rapport are enough agreements.

The countries have witnessed joint exchange programmes in training exercises. Recently they signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a logistic pact that allows the two countries to access military facilities situated in both countries for refuelling and as pit stops.

One of the key outcomes of the Obama administration in defence ties with India is the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that simplified technology transfer policies and opened up opportunities for innovation and coproduction. Under the DTTI, the US and India have launched seven joint working groups to explore collaborative projects and programs.

Since 2008, defence acquisition from the US has crossed US$13 billion making India a major defence market. The Washington Post reported that Boeing and Lockheed Martin were in talks with India to build the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Indian Air Force in India.

The Trump administration’s interest in South Asia means it needs India as a strategic partner in the coming days. Another aspect that tilts Trump’s diplomacy towards India is his dismissiveness of China and some tension that is apparent in the Sino-US relationship with the change of power in the US. He recently ruffled a lot of feathers in Beijing questioning the “One China Policy” stating that the US was not obliged to seeing Taiwan as a part of China.

Going by reports, India and defence ties with the country will continue to be a priority in the new US government’s agenda as well.

Photo - Ashton Carter (US Secretary of Defence) and Manohar Parrikar (Defence Minister of India), during a bilateral meeting earlier this year.

Elizabeth Raj | Blogger - Arsha Consulting

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