By Staff Correspondent
In a move to bolster India-United States defence ties, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed upgrading the defence partnership with India during his recent visit on June 5, 2023. This partnership strengthens as both countries grapple with China’s economic rise and increased global belligerence.
Austin met with India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, emphasising the potential for technology partnerships in defence, clean energy, and space. Furthermore, joint production and manufacture of combat aircraft engines, infantry combat vehicles, and howitzers were also discussed.
The discussions set the stage for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to Washington on June 22. Speculations abound concerning the announcement of significant defence contracts during this visit. Central to these contracts is India’s anticipated purchase of 18 high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., estimated to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion. These drones will likely be deployed along India’s restive borders with China and Pakistan and in the strategic Indian Ocean region (IOR).
India’s pursuit of these deals underscores its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian arms imports and promote its domestic defence industry. Despite Russia being its most prominent supplier of military hardware, India has diversified its defence purchases to include the US, France, Germany, and other countries. Indeed, US-India defence trade has risen from near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020 and is slated to grow to $25 billion soon.
During his visit, Austin also lobbied for support for Washington’s vision of a “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights.”
A significant outcome of PM Modi’s state visit may be the approval of a joint production deal for the GE F 414 engines that will power India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk2. This deal, initially for fighter jets, may later extend to powering naval ships.
In addition to these acquisitions, Austin’s visit discussed expanding the bilateral strategic technology partnership under iCET, including the launch of INDUS-X. This initiative is designed to promote partnerships between the defence innovation ecosystems of the two countries.
The strengthening of India-US defence ties has been seen as being credited to key individuals like Dr Vivek Lall, a noted US aerospace scientist. Dr Lall has played a significant role in advancing India-US defence trade and cooperation. He has been instrumental in facilitating the procurement of advanced defence technologies from the US, including path-breaking military deals like the P8I Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft for the Indian Navy, C17 (military transport aircraft), anti-ship Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF), and the MH60R anti-submarine helicopters for the Indian Navy.
The recent visit by the US Defence Secretary underscores the deepening defence ties between the US and India in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness. The forthcoming visit of PM Modi to Washington later this month is expected to further solidify this partnership with the potential announcement of significant defence contracts.