Stage is set to welcome the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin later this week, who will on his maiden two day visit to India from March 19-20.The US Defense secretary who is going to be accompanied by a high level official delegation has a very packed schedule while in New Delhi. He is going to have a meeting with his counterpart Indian Defense minister Rajnath Singh, other top officers in the Ministry of Defense and he is expected to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi too.
“No major announcement is expected in this visit. This is more of an exploratory visit and there will be a wide range of issues that the two sides will talk about. Also, the visit assumes importance as it is coming soon after the recently concluded virtual summit of the Quad which was called by the US President Joe Biden,” explained a senior officer to Financial Express Online. Adding, “The visit is also important as it is coming ahead of the next 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this year. This time the venue is Washington DC.”
At the end of the visit, a joint statement is likely to be issued which will highlight the issues that were discussed.
What has the Pentagon said about the forthcoming visit?
The two sides will discuss the importance of International Defense Relationship; and the Defense Secretary will reinforce the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
He is also visiting South Korea, Japan, and US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii – a reinforcement of its commitment to Indo-Pacific. India is the last leg of his maiden foreign trip.
Both sides are going to focus on further strengthening the Indo-US Major Defense Partnership; Maritime Domain Awareness; bilateral and multilateral military exercises; defense joint ventures and production, as well deepening cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean Region and free and open Indo-Pacific.
The bilateral relations between the two countries have witnessed significant broadening and growing relationship. And due to the continuing standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, the two countries have come closer as far as security cooperation is concerned.
Defense Deals in the pipeline
Leasing of military platforms is going to be discussed, as this is something new the Ministry of Defence has introduced in Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
Topping the list is the pending proposal of 30 armed drones from the US based General Atomics. The deal which is estimated to be at around USD 3 billion has been pending since last year. And, now, as has been reported by Financial Express Online, the deal is in the final stages of getting a stamp of approval by Defence Acquisition Council (DAC).
As reported earlier, the Indian Navy has leased two drones from the company for one year, and these were deployed in 2020 to provide security cover during the standoff between India and China were at the peak.
Fighter jets including the Boeing Company’s F15EX for the Indian Air Force’s Requirement off 114 and F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Navy’s proposal to acquire 57 new jets for its aircraft carriers.
Another deal which is being discussed is 10 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems. For this system the US based Boeing is the front runner, and will be discussed for which the US based Boeing is the front runner.
Also on the table for talks is the sale of Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure. This missile defense system for large aircraft (those which are used by VIPs).
The Integrated Air Defence Weapon System (IADWS) which has already been approved by the US State Department during the Trump administration is also amongst the deals pending.
Communications Security Account and Equipment – the most critical component required for helping in enhancing interoperability and for advancing communication.
Six additional P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft to add to the 12 already contracted for the Indian Navy.
India holds a special status
Designated as Major Defense Partner in 2016 by the Obama administration, under the Trump Administration it acquired Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 Status. This status enabled the transfer of sensitive high-tech equipment from the US to India.
Both countries have inked foundational agreements that enable greater interoperability between the defense systems of the two countries. And now, with the Quad becoming a formal grouping the agreements and equipment will help India.
In the meantime…
Post COVID a US Navy Liaison Officer (LO) has been positioned at IFC-IOR.
There is a greater interaction and coordination with CENTCOM and AFRICOM.
Both sides have been talking about increasing the scope and complexities of the joint exercises and setting up of the COMSEC account.
India and the US are also looking at capacity building and other joint cooperation activities in third countries. Peacekeeping, training, and more drills including the neighbouring countries and beyond.