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India-US ties: Beyond 'Howdy Modi', USD 6 billion worth defence deals on the table

By Vishal S
|

New Delhi, Sep 19: Apart from sharing the stage at the 'Howdy, Modi' event in Houston, PM Modi and President Donald Trump would be discussing ways to further enhance defence cooperation between India and the United States. Reports say that defence deals worth USD six billion is on the table.

Last year, India went ahead with the S-400 deal with Russia despite Washington's warning that it could seriously affect India-US defence ties. Even after finalising the deal with Russia, the Trump administration issued veiled threats of imposing sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

A file photo

Reports were also doing rounds that US could offer India the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet for both the air force and navy. With many fighters set to be phased off in the next five years, IAF is frantically looking for replacement options.

For Trump, India is a big market in terms of defence equipment. According to a 2017 report by the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs, India was responsible for 10.3 per cent of global arms imports between 2000 and 2016, with Russia supplying 72 per cent of those imports. The US is aiming at a bigger share in the pie.

[US' F-35 bait to convince India against buying S-400: Will it work?]

The Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force is already waiting for the UAVs from the US. The US administration is aware that the request for the drones by the Indian Army and the Navy have been clubbed -which means each will buy 10 each and it is different than the one that the IAF is seeking. India is looking at 30 UAVs for all its three services, a Financial Express report said.

India and US have a robust military partnership with the former looking to acquire 24 Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk multirole helicopters for the navy, another six Apache attack helicopters for the army beyond the 22 on order and 10 more Boeing P 8I multi-mission maritime aircraft with proven anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare and shipping interdiction capabilities. The entire package is worth upwards of $6 billion, an HT report said.

[Is Trump's presence at 'Howdy, Modi!' a PR exercise?]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump are scheduled to meet twice in less than a week this month, India's top envoy to America said as per a PTI report, asserting that the India-US strategic relationship has the potential to become the "defining partnership" within this century.

Since his re-election in May this year, Prime Minister Modi has met President Trump twice. The previous two meetings of the two leaders were on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan and G-7 Summit in France this summer. And later this week when Modi arrives in the US, they "are scheduled to meet twice more", India's ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla told a Washington audience on Wednesday. So, they would have "four meetings in the span of a few months," Shringla said during the 'India on the Hill: Charting a Future for Indo-US Relations' event jointly organised by two think tanks The Heritage Foundation from the US and Observer Research Foundation (ORF) from India.

Modi is scheduled to arrive in Houston on Saturday. A day later, Trump would join him in addressing the mega "Howdy Modi" rally to be attended by more than 50,000 Indian-Americans. The two leaders are again scheduled to meet later in the week in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions. "They will meet on 22nd September. The US President is joining the Prime Minister in addressing a huge Indian diaspora event in Houston and they will also meet on the margins of the UNGA in New York," Shringla said.

[Reinstate GSP designation for India: 44 lawmakers urge Trump ahead of 'Howdy Modi']

Modi and Trump's predecessor Barack Obama has the record of a maximum number of meetings between the leaders of the two countries, but this is the first time that the Indian prime minister and the American president would be meeting four times within a span of four months. "It's really reflective of the nature of the (India-US) relationship," Shringla said while participating in a panel discussion during the first-of-its-kind two-day event. "India-US strategic partnership has emerged as one of the key bilateral relationships from the start of this century and has the potential to become the defining partnership within this century," he said.

[Could this be one of the reasons why S-400 makes the United States uncomfortable?]

The ambassador said the building blocks of this strategic partnership was the security cooperation which has emerged now in place. Shringla said it was important to note how far the two countries have come in a short span of a decade since the Civil Nuclear Agreement. India and the United States have signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA). Several other agreements are at different stages of discussion, he said. The two countries now conduct more bilateral exercises with each other than they do with any other country.

[The diplomatic meticulousness behind Article 370's revocation]

Bilateral exercises held annually include Malabar (naval exercise that also includes Japan), Cope-India (Air Force), Yudh Abhyas (Army) and Vajra Prahar (Special Forces), Shringla said. India also participates in the annual RIMPAC exercises as well as in Red Flag exercises which are US-led multinational exercises. Indian defence procurements from the US have also seen tremendous growth, he said. "We have also instituted the 2+2 Dialogue - a joint meeting between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of the two countries," the Indian diplomat said. The two countries also engage through Trilateral Summit level meetings between India, the US and Japan as well as Quadrilateral DG-level meetings between India, the US, Japan and Australia.

    Donald Trump to be present at event with PM Modi in Houston

    "It is worth mentioning that we also have a bilateral maritime security dialogue and several other defence cooperation dialogue mechanisms," Shringla said. "A key area that has seen close bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism. We have a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism (JWGCT) and a Designations Dialogue. This cooperation also spills over into multilateral fora. "The listing of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leader Masood Azhar by the UN Security Council on May 2019, in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack, is one such instance," he said.

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