In 2016, the US recognised India as a ‘Major Defense Partner’ under which Washington will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
India is a real partner, a rising partner of the United States, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey said while responding to a question from Congressman Doug Lamborn during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday on the Indo-Pacific region by the House Armed Services Committee.
“We are looking to … deepen our military-technical cooperation with India that is based on providing them arms and equipment so we can build interoperable forces and capabilities and work with India developing its own defence industrial base so that India is able to produce equipment to service their needs and to be able to work with us and others around the region,” Helvey said.
“We have a unique designation with India; it’s called a Major Defense Partner,” he said, ahead of US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin’s first visit to India from March 19 to 21 that is expected to focus on ways to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and strengthen overall defence and security ties.
Austin said he would be travelling to India to meet his counterpart Rajnath Singh and other senior national security leaders to discuss deepening the US-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between the two countries.
During the Congressional hearing, Helvey said one of the things that the US was prioritising is looking at ways to operationalise the defense partnership with India to be able to look at ways where both countries can work together in the defence space in pursuit of common interests based on their converging strategic interest.
“I think we all agree that it needs to be a better partner and a counterweight to China, so what is the Biden administration plan to build a stronger partnership with India both economically and militarily?” Congressman Lamborn asked.
“One of the things we would like to be able to do is built on some of the foundational agreements that we have been able to conclude with India in recent years. Say for example, with information security or logistics arrangements to where we can share more information with India so we can build a common strategic understanding of the types of threats that we face together,” Helvey said.
“Look at how we can use our forces and Indian forces in the Indian Ocean region and beyond to be able to work together, whether it’s in maritime domain awareness or maritime security or humanitarian assistance and disaster response,” Helvey said.
Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, responding to the same question said that over the course of his tenure at INDOPACOM there has been some opportunity to cooperate in the maritime and to assist a little bit in information sharing, some cold-weather gear, and things like that with India’s challenges along the Line of Actual Control with China.
“I think it’s gone a long way to deepening our relationship and really presents a key strategic opportunity I think, for the United States,” he said.
In his prepared testimony, Helvey said that in South Asia, America’s Major Defense Partnership with India continues to deepen as the two nations build interoperability through increasingly complex exercises and growing defense trade, and through expanded information sharing and secure communications to address issues of shared concern.
“With the completion of all foundational agreements, the partnership is now poised to accelerate. We also are pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Maldives to work cooperatively to ensure the region remains free and open,” he said.