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It demonstrates the growing importance of defence in the two countries’ bilateral relations, which is motivated in part by shared worries about a belligerent China.

During this tour, India also ordered MQ-9 armed drones from General Atomic, greatly enhancing its ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities. They will be put together in India.

The two sides also reached agreements to create logistical, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for planes and boats in India, as well as Master Ship Repair Agreements that would permit forward deployed US military ships to dock in India for repairs.

The opening of new US consulates in India and stateside H-1B renewals (Indians are the program’s biggest beneficiaries), among many other new initiatives (about 25), were included in a joint statement issued by the two parties following Prime Minister Modi’s meetings with President Joe Biden. However, the joint production of the F-414 unmistakably stole the show.

For its Tejas fighter jets, India has been using GE’s F404 jet engine after years of trying to develop its own but failing to make any progress. The next generation of Tejas fighters will run on F414 fuel.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and GE inked, F414 engines will be jointly produced in India. This would be the largest transfer of military technology from the US to India and will serve as the astonishing zenith of a defence cooperation that did not exist 20 years ago.

The largest armaments importer in the world, India, had never purchased anything from the US until 20 years ago. It imported $20 billion worth of American equipment by 2020, making up 10% of its overall imports of arms; the figure is already getting close to $25 billion.

The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan organisation that does policy research for US politicians, has put together a list of India’s purchases over the years, which cover all three platforms but mostly air and sea:

India once purchased the majority of its defence technology from Russia (previously the Soviet Union). According to a research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), however, it has been slowly reducing it until it was down to 45% by 2022. With 29% of the market, France was India’s second-largest arms supplier, and the US came in third with 11%.

In recent years, Washington has attempted to increase its arms sales to India by lowering regulatory restrictions. It designated India as a “Major Defence Partner” in 2016, enabling technology exchange on a par with the closest US allies and partners.

2018 saw the United States grant India the designation of STA 1 (Strategic Trade Authorization 1), putting it on level with NATO members and five of its closest treaty allies, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Israel, for the license-free import of sensitive dual use technology.

India, on the other hand, overcame years of reluctance to sign the four Foundational/Enabling Agreements that the US claims are necessary for interoperability between its military and that of the signatory country. These agreements are the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), Logistic Support Agreement (LSA), Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA).

Last month, legislation was introduced in both houses of the US Congress with the goal of amending the Arms Export Control Act to speed up the sale of weapons to India and grant it the same privileges as the NATO Plus Five nations of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Israel.

The two nations have also increased communication and interaction between their military. India and the US now undertake the most joint military drills. Specifically, Tiger Triumph (tri-service), Cope India (air force), Yudh Abhyas (army), and Vajra Prahar (army special forces). Furthermore, in addition to the US, there are numerous other countries, including Malabar (Navy), Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC, Navy), Milan (Navy), Cutlass Express (Navy), La Perouse (Navy), Sea Dragon (Navy), Pitch Black (Air Force), and Red Flag (Air Force).

If defence cooperation is the engine powering this bilateral relationship, then shared worries about China serve as its gasoline.

Neither the 2,600-word fact sheet released by the White House to summarise the key points of the conversations, nor the 6,500-word joint statement India and the US released following Modi’s meetings with Biden, had a single direct mention of the People’s Republic of China.

However, paragraph 29 of the joint declaration made it clear what the two sides prioritised: “a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous India-Pacific region with respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and international law,” it stressed.

The paragraph went on to say that “both leaders expressed concern over coercive actions and rising tensions, and strongly oppose destabilising or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force,” referring, without mentioning specific individuals or incidents, to China’s pursuit of maritime and territorial claims in the region that have caused tensions and conflicts with several nations including India, Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

In response to challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas, “both sides stressed the importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight,” the statement continued, making reference to China’s rejection of a 2016 panel ruling.

Modi’s visit was overshadowed by China.A day after the Modi-Biden discussions, White House national security council secretary John Kirby told reporters that “clearly, the challenges presented by the PRC to both our nations were on the agenda yesterday.”

However, he denied claims that Modi’s visit was meant to use India as a counterbalance against China. But it’s no secret that the threat from China is bringing India and the US closer together than anything else.

India is now more closely aligned with Australia and Japan as Quad members, in addition to the United States. Although it was revived in 2017 after dissolving in 2008, India actively took part in it after the Galwan border skirmishes with Chinese forces, which abruptly dashed New Delhi’s dreams of amicable relations with Beijing.

Since then, Quad has gained momentum, and its leaders recently met for the second time in person at the summit level during the G-7 summit in Hiroshima.

Defence and security issues are not addressed by the Quad, but they are not only prominent in bilateral relations between the United States and India—they are really driving them—again, in large part due to China.


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