India and the US have a unique role in preserving the rules-based global order, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday while citing “bullying and coercion” by China and Russian aggression against Ukraine.
After holding wide-ranging talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh here, Mr Austin said that the US government is putting its “full weight” behind supporting India’s defence modernisation.
Describing the US-India relationship as one of the most “consequential” ones, Mr Austin said the partnership is a “cornerstone” for a free and open Indo-Pacific and that the growing military cooperation between the two “great powers” can be a force for global good.
The US is “absolutely committed” to “our historic investment” in ensuing technology cooperation with India, the US defence secretary said at a media briefing.
In their talks, Mr Austin and Mr Singh concluded an ambitious roadmap for defence-industrial cooperation to fast-track technology tie-ups and co-production of military platforms such as air combat and land systems.
“I can tell you that the US government is putting our full weight behind supporting India’s defence modernisation. I look forward to continuing to work with Minister Singh going forward,” Mr Austin said.
In his comments to the media, the US defence secretary spoke about various dimensions of the growing defence and strategic cooperation between India and the US and its significance in the current geo-political scenario.
“This all matters because we all face a rapidly changing world. We see bullying and coercion from the People’s Republic of China and Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders by force and threatens national sovereignty, as well as transnational threats such as terrorism and climate change,” he said.
His remarks come amid rising tension in the Taiwan Strait where a Chinese naval ship cut sharply across the path of an American destroyer on Saturday, forcing the US vessel to slow to avoid a collision.
The US defence secretary also rejected China’s allegations that the US was trying to establish an Asian NATO in the Indo-Pacific.
“We are absolutely not trying to establish a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in the Indo-Pacific. We continue to work with like-minded countries to ensure that the region remains free and open,” he said.
China has been very critical about the Quad comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia and calls the coalition an Asian NATO.
Mr Austin said the US-India global strategic partnership has continued to rapidly grow.
“As the world’s two largest democracies, India and the US have a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure,” he said.
“Today, the US-India partnership is a cornerstone for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our deepening bond shows how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between two great powers can be a force for global good,” he added.
The US Defence Secretary said he and Mr Singh have taken new steps to further strengthen the bilateral defence cooperation.
“We established an ambitious new roadmap for defence industrial cooperation with a fast-track (and) high-priority for co-development and co-production projects and to build closer ties between our defence industries,” he said.
Mr Austin said democracies must now rally together to protect common interests and shared values.
“Preserving and protecting freedom are essential to peace and prosperity and require vigorous leadership from the US and India. So we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
“I am confident that the US-India partnership will help secure an open and prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific and the wider world,” he said.
The US Defence Secretary also noted that there is an increasing desire on the part of the US to share defence technology with India.
“We are careful about guarding our technology. We only share technologies with countries that we absolutely believe in and trust. There is an increasing desire for us to share with partners here in India,” Mr Austin said.
“If you look at some of the things that we are working on, I would describe it as certainly consequential in terms of the kind of things we are doing and work is going on. There are opportunities to increase capacity, increase capability,” he said.
“We remain encouraged that India has continued to diversify its equipment over the past decade and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to increase additional capabilities,” he said.
The Pentagon said the new roadmap aims to change the “paradigm” for cooperation between the US and Indian defence sectors, including the implementation of a set of specific proposals that could provide India access to cutting-edge technologies and support its defence modernisation plans.
The India-US defence and strategic ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.
The two countries have inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.
The two sides also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India.
In October 2020, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties.
The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.