Written by Shubhajit Roy
| New Delhi |
Updated: October 26, 2020 7:28:22 am
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/File)
WITH US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper landing in New Delhi Monday for the 2+2 ministerial meeting with their Indian counterparts, New Delhi and Washington are working to enhance military interaction and cooperation in defence and security — with an eye on increased Chinese belligerence in the region.
Ahead of their summit with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on October 27, sources said two Indian officials will be designated for counter-terrorism cooperation with the US. Pompeo and Esper will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and meet NSA Ajit Doval, apart from attending separate bilateral meetings.
“Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open #IndoPacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations,” Pompeo posted on Twitter Sunday night.
The two sides are working to conclude the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) during the visit. A key military pact, BECA will allow India to use US geospatial intelligence and enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
“With respect to military-to-military engagement, we are working to build greater interoperability by increasing the sophistication of our combined exercises. The passing exercise between the Indian Navy and the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group this summer is just one example. The recent refuelling of one of our Navy P-8 aircraft in Port Blair is another example,” said a senior US official.
“Over the past year, we have placed a US liaison officer at the Information Fusion Center-Indian Ocean Region. That is India’s maritime domain awareness fusion center that they host. And an Indian liaison was placed at US Central Command… both of these have enhanced coordination and information sharing between our navies. We also hope to confirm two additional Indian liaison officer placements in the near term to expand counterterrorism cooperation,” the official said.
With Indian and Chinese troops locked in a border standoff, officials said the Indian and US ministers will seek to solidify strategic alignment and reiterate the need to work together in promoting a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.
Officials said the two sides will also focus on four broad themes from the defence and security perspective: regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military-to-military interaction and defence trade.
India became a major defence partner of the US in 2016 and held the inaugural 2+2 ministerial meeting in 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the United States in 2019, and President Trump visited India in February this year.
Pompeo and Jaishankar met in Tokyo early this month, separately and during the Quadrilateral grouping’s meeting of Foreign Ministers. Last week, India announced that it was inviting Australia to the Malabar naval exercise in November to complete a Quad grouping.
“This invitation signals not only a strategic convergence between the Quadrilateral partners but a recognition that regional security requires strengthening allies and partnerships and working multilateral on issues of mutual concern,” a US official said.
While looking to increase military cooperation in emerging technologies, India and the US held an inaugural Defence Cyber Dialogue in September, and are now looking to have a “defence space dialogue in the coming year, most likely in early 2021”, officials said.
The two sides will also work towards defence trade — India acquired Apache and Seahawk helicopters this year — and the US is seeking to advance sales for several platforms that will include fighter aircraft and UAVs.
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