|Arun Jaitley greets Chuck Hagel at South Block on Friday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Aug. 8: India looks set to reboot its military ties with the US starting with the Prime Minister’s scheduled Washington trip in September after the defence ministers today decided to renew an overarching pact and appointed executives to oversee defence technology ventures.
“The Prime Minister underlined the importance of defence relations in the overall strategic partnership between the two countries and indicated his desire to see further progress in defence relations, including in defence manufacturing in India, technology transfer in the area of defence, exercises and higher studies in the field of defence,” the Prime Minister’s Office said after US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel met Narendra Modi here this morning.
The government also announced that defence minister Arun Jaitley would visit the US in October.
Hagel had said on his way to India that his objectives were to start early talks to renew a 10-year New Framework for the India-US Defence Relationship pact that is due to expire in July 2015.
The agreement, which governs all aspects of the defence relationship including technology transfers, weapons sales, exercises and exchanges of personnel and training, was signed in 2005 when Pranab Mukherjee was defence minister.
Hagel had also said he was keen to push forward a Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), agreed during Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US as Prime Minister in September last year.
After the delegation-level meetings headed by Jaitley and Hagel, “the two sides decided to take steps for the extension of the New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, well before it expires in July 2015,” an Indian defence ministry release stated.
The two sides also named India’s secretary, defence production, and the US undersecretary for acquisition, technology and licensing at the Pentagon as the contact persons for the DTTI.
The DTTI too was agreed during a Singh-Obama summit but the US perception was that the Indian defence establishment under A.K. Antony was going slow on the 10 projects the US had proposed for co-production and co-development.
Among these projects are an anti-tank guided missile, an attack helicopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle and a heavy gun.
What America has taken away from the talks, which follow visits by its secretaries of state and commerce, is likely to be evident tomorrow after a lecture that Hagel is slated to deliver at a meeting organised by the Observer Research Foundation, a Reliance Industries-sponsored think tank.
A US defence department release on Hagel’s meetings with Modi and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj quoted the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, who said Hagel and the Indian leaders had discussed the importance of continuing robust defence cooperation, particularly in terms of co-development and co-production, and through military education and training exchanges.
“Modi’s forward-looking agenda for his summit with President Barack Obama in the fall was part of Hagel’s discussion with Modi,” Kirby said.
Sources in India said Hagel had asked Sushma whether India would be willing to expand security cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, senior officials said.
Hagel, the officials said, at least twice articulated Washington’s interest in increasing military exercises not just between India and the US but also including Japan and possibly other Pacific nations.
Hagel, officials said, also probed Sushma on the Modi government’s position on China’s territorial disputes with Japan and South Korea in the East China Sea and with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea.
Sushma, the officials said, iterated India’s stance on those disputes — that all nations must ensure that sea trade routes are not obstructed and that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is adhered to, but the disputes should be resolved solely bilaterally.
China is sensitive to any move by the US and Japan that it perceives as aimed at yanking India into an alliance aimed at containing Beijing’s own strategic clout.
When Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” consisting of the US, Japan, Australia and India in his first term in office, China protested formally with each of these four nations.
It also objected to joint naval exercises conducted by the US, India, Japan, Australia and Singapore in 2007.
Security issues affecting the subcontinent and how they impact the US-India relationship figured in all the meetings.
Jaitley said he expected more technologies to flow in after raising the FDI cap in defence.
“The development of our own indigenous capabilities is a major objective that guides our present policies. In this direction, we have taken steps to raise the FDI cap in the defence sector. We look forward to work closely with the US in this regard,” he said.