India-US : Defence Ties

Evolution of India-US Defence relations:

  • Two parallel tracks of dialogue began in the 1990s.
  • The strategic dialogue covering nuclear issues shifted gears following the nuclear tests of 1998 and imposition of sanctions by the U.S.
  • India-U.S. concluded a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2008.
  • The defence dialogue began in 1995 with the setting up of the Defence Policy Group at the level of the Defence Secretary and his Pentagon counterpart and three Steering Groups to develop exchanges between the Services.
  • A decade later, this was formalised and enlarged into the India-U.S. Defence Framework Agreement which was renewed for 10 years in 2015.
  • Today, the U.S. is the country with which India undertakes the largest number of military exercises which have gradually evolved in scale and complexity.
  • During the Cold War, more than three-fourths of India’s defence equipment was of Soviet origin. This gradually began to change, and in recent years, the U.S. and Israel emerged as major suppliers.
  • The Indian Air Force went in for C-130J Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster aircraft, along with Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters.
  • The Indian Navy acquired a troop carrier ship and the P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
  • An agreement for 24 multi-role helicopters for the Indian Navy is expected soon.
  • The Indian Army went in for the M-777 howitzers and artillery radars.
  • From a total of less than $400 million of defence acquisitions during 1947-2005, the U.S. has signed defence contracts of over $15 billion since.
  • Pathfinder projects have been identified under this Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTII).
  • To get around export control licensing and other bureaucratic hurdles, an India Rapid Reaction Cell in the Pentagon was set up. In 2016, India was designated as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ country.
  • Another step forward in the middle of this year was the inclusion of India in the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) category, putting it on a par with allies in terms of technology access. This should enable the DTII to graduate to more ambitious projects.
  • UAV Technology sale to India approved. The transfer of the state-of-the-art UAV technology to India will be the first significant progress after India’s entry into the exclusive Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and after the US has designated India as a major defence partner.



India as a major partner

  • India has been designated as a major defence partner of the United States. It puts India on a par with the closest allies and partners of the US
  • India’s Major Defence Partner status has been made a part of the India Amendment in the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), 2017 of US
  • SignificanceThe designation of this status is unique to India, a non-NATO ally of US. It institutionalizes the progress made by US to facilitate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level at par with its closest allies and partners. It will facilitate US to transfer of advanced defence technology to India. It will also strengthen institutional effectiveness of US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTII) and the durability of the India Rapid Reaction Cell in Pentagon


Changes in US export law to benefit India:

  • United States (US) has made changes in its export control laws that will benefit India by facilitating smoother transfer of technologies and arms.
  • These changes have been made in par with recognition of India’s status as a ‘Major Defence Partner’.
  • The new rule creates a presumption of approval for Indian firms seeking to import the Commerce Department-controlled military items, except weapons of mass destruction-related goods.
  • Henceforth, companies will not need a license at all after becoming a Validated End User (VEU). 
  • Under it, India will be denied licences only in the rarest circumstances.


India and US are moving towards three “foundational agreements”

  • Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement or LSA Logistics Support Agreement (LSA)
  • Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA)
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)


Significance of these agreements:

  • The most immediate utility for New Delhi of these agreements is the expected gains in defence co-production with the US as the latter eases the terms of technology transfer
  • For that, the signing of these agreements should be strictly made contingent on US assurance on transfer of technology


Impediments in defence partnership:

  • India’s red tapism
  • Offset policies
  • The major impediment is Washington’s reluctance to share high-end technology



Critically comment on defence cooperation between India and USA. (200 Words)


While traditionally, India and the United States have not had very close co-operation in High Technology areas that has been changing in the recent past. India and the US are collaborating in a range of areas, out of which Defense is a major area of cooperation.


  1. Defense Framework Agreement – A 10 year Framework Agreement on defense was first signed between the two countries in 1995 and renewed in 2005 and 2015. All defense co-operation between the two take place within that Framework.
  2. Bilateral Exercises and Joint Training – The two countries now participate in more military exercise with each other than with any other. Malabar is an annual bilateral exercise between the Navies of the two countries. India accepted an invite to participate in RIMPAC (rim of pacific)- a US organised naval exercise. The forces of both the countries regularly train at defense training establishments of each other.
  3. Institutional Mechanisms – There are many institutional mechanisms to promote defense co-operation between the two. There is a Defense Policy group, a Defense Procurement and Production Group and a Defense Joint Working Group. This is in addition to the direct Service to Service Executive Steering Group.
  4. Defense Equipment – Indian imports of defense equipment form the US has crossed $ 10 Billion. Along with trade, India and US have established a Defense Trade and Technology Initiative to promote co-development of defense technology. [A modern acquisition of Indian air force from the US C- 130J super Hercules military transport aircraft crashed]
  5. Information sharing for counter terrorism operations is highlight of the relations.


However, the legacy of Non Alignment along with other strategic reasons is causing a hindrance in closer co-operation in strategic areas like defense manufacturing. While India is the largest democracy, the US is the oldest one and both countries share common ideals and common vision. It is thus imperative that they take a holistic view of their relationship and develop even closer ties.




“A sophisticated engagement with the US is in India’s interests. But there is reason to worry that the escalating nature of our defence agreements with the US will put us on a slippery slope where we may not be able to manage our own geopolitical positioning in the world’s major conflicts.” Critically analyse. (200 Words)


Recent developments like

  1. U.S.-India Defence Technology and Partnership Act in US Congress which would institutionalize Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) framework between India and US.
  2. Ongoing debate regarding signing of agreements like logistics support agreement (LSA) which will allow use of Indian bases for logistic purposes and vice versa, and likewise Basic Exchange and cooperation agreement (BECA).
  3. Emergence of US as the largest arms supplier to India
  4. Currently India conducts more military exercise than any other country 


These all are signs of increasing defence and strategic partnership between the two.


These developments certainly benefit India’s defence capabilities and defence Industrial complex but one cannot discard the inclination of US towards India in wake of more assertive communist China and power shift from the west to the east.


India should be wary and cautious because: 

  1. India losing its strategic and sovereign defence sphere to US because of the need to provide bases to US
  2. India’s lack of defence Infrastructure in the wake of expansionist china cannot be balanced with such partnerships in long run until unless India has a full-fledged and sustainable defence industrial complex. One lesson that India can learn from its over-dependence on Russian defence infrastructure for several decades in last century.
  3. Can make Russia (a trusted partner for India) weary of plans of India
  4. Such partnership might get involved India in geopolitical problems which are not of its own making.
  5. India should play a role to diffuse global conflict rather than escalating the tensions.
  6. US’s role towards Pakistan is not clear, its support of Pakistan both economically and through the supply of defence equipment has led to an upsurge in India’s defence expenditure as well. Such situation has not led the subcontinent to get rid of actual problems like health, illiteracy and poverty.
  7. Increased presence of US in Indian Ocean region because of support to pivot to Asia through these agreements can disturb the peace and stability
  8. Relations with China can take a backseat as it can view relations a counter to OBOR and a containment of China
  9. Vulnerability to India in case of conflict with US itself


However, the concerns may be unfounded because-

  1. Countries like France and Germany have similar arrangements with US and they not necessarily align with US as happened in US invasion of Iraq in 2004
  2. Diversifying the defence relations with US seeks to strengthen the notion of Multi-polar world
  3. Will be seen as counter by India to growing China-Pakistan closeness and can make China mend ways
  4. Unnecessary geopolitical tensions of South China Sea that impact India’s interest (OVL in Vietnam) would be kept in check


India should tread on this path very carefully and not let in any way compromise it stand in the global domain. India would not be able to stress its role in international arena until and unless it is viewed as an independent power rather than walking crutches from US or any other world power for that matter of fact.


Should India be cautious of over indulging with USA?


With increasing defence cooperation as seen by the DTTI ( defence technology and trade initiative) and the LEMOA (logistic exchange memoranda of understanding), India has grown a closer defence partnership with the USA. This could lead to;

  1. An informal military alliance with Washington and possible request for participation in armed conflict.
  2. Possible embargo of weapons and ammunition to India in case of a conflict of interest.
  3. Possible loss of sovereignty of India’s foreign policy.
  4. Possible strain in Indo-Russia and Indo-Chinese ties due to this growing partnership.


However, such fears are unfounded because;

  1. India has a diverse base of weapons suppliers including Russia and Israel.
  2. None of these treaties include basing rights or rights to use Indian assets by the USA anywhere in the world.
  3. Countries like Germany and France(in Libya) and Turkey (in Iraq) have successfully opposed the USA with respect to international issues though they are all crucial allies of the USA.


Therefore, though these agreements do not mean an alliance of any sort, India must take care to ensure that it is not perceived so by either her allies or her enemies. What is important is the realization that the Indo-US closeness is just one among many handshakes of India in her quest to build stable international relations.


Related Questions:

  • Do you think Indias growing relations with USA constrain Indias ability to conduct its diplomacy with other major powers like China and Russia? Discuss. (200 Words) - India-US Defence Ties

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