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'US-India defence relationship has unmet potential'

April 03, 2014 14:46 IST

Powerful senators write to US Defense Secretary Hagel to support a robust defence relationship with India to achieve shared goals and form an unwavering bond between the world's two largest democracies. Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

Two powerful United States senators who co-chair the Senate Friends of India Caucus have written to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel arguing how imperative it is that the Pentagon continues its support and development of a robust defence relationship with India.

Senators Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, and John Cornyn, Texas Republican, also encouraged Hagel to designate a senior Department of Defence official to lead the US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, which was previously spearheaded by former deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

They pointed out that US-India defence trade has registered over $9 billion (Rs 54,054 cr) in defence deals since 2008 and has the potential to continue to grow as India is on track to spend over $100 billion in the next decade as it upgrades its defence systems.

In their missive made available to Rediff.com, the senators informed Hagel that 'we write to you to emphasise the necessity for continued support and development of a robust defense relationship with the Republic of India,' and noted that the US-India relationship 'has come a long way in recent years, and we laud the efforts of former deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter in moving it forward.'

'As with the entirety of the US-India bilateral relationship, we believe the defence relationship has unmet potential that stands to benefit both nations,' they added.

Warner and Cornyn exhorted Hagel 'to make this relationship a priority in your tenure,' and called on him to 'designate a senior Department of Defence official to carry on Deputy Secretary Carter's legacy in enhancing defence relations with India.'

The lawmakers noted that the defence ties between both nations had grown exponentially 'into a real partnership and the centrepiece of the bilateral relationship,' and pointed out that 'defense trade has been a particular bright spot as US sales of military equipment to

India have grown from 0 in 2008 to around $ 9 billion today, with billions more expected to come.'

They spoke of reports that indicated India 'plans to spend over $100 billion (Rs 6,00,600 cr) in the next  decade to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era military hardware, which creates substantial opportunities for US companies to play a role in India's defence modernisation effort.'

Warner and Cornyn spoke of the US Congress' unstinted support for the Pentagon's Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, which they noted, 'has helped focus, streamline, and align both the United States' and India's bureaucratic processes to make defence trade simpler, more responsive and more effective.'

'India has also achieved preferential categorisation by the commerce department and the State Department under the US Strategic Trade Authorisation, which allows India to gain license exemptions for the export of many items on the commerce control list, and has facilitated forward-leaning proposals from the defence industry for defence items to be co-produced and co-developed by the US and India.'

The lawmakers cited as a prime example, the 'established cooperation on the tactical airlifter C-130J Super Hercules manufacturing plant in the Indian city of Hyderabad that is jointly run by Lockheed Martin and Tata, and Indian firm.'

'This is the kind of creativity and energy we need in the relationship,' they said, and asked for Hagel to provide them with more information about 'the details of the Joint declaration on defence cooperation, as well as your plans to allow the Indian Navy to participate for the first time in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific naval exercise, hosted by the US Pacific Command.'

Warner and Cornyn regretted that notwithstanding 'these welcome developments, critical barriers remain, and India continues to have heightened expectations for technology transfers and Indian offset requirements have slowed defence trade.'

They noted that because 'much of the Indian offset market is saturated, American defence firms increasingly find it difficult to locate areas in which to invest,' and said in order to alleviate this 'significant hurdle,' they had asked the Indian government to 'incorporate a two-tiered system where offset funds that cannot be spent on traditional Indian defence industries can flow to a second-tier of other Indian priorities, such as education or skills development, including community colleges and other vocational training in areas that India has identified as a priority.'

The lawmakers argued that as the 'planned pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is implemented, the significance of the US-India defence relationship cannot be understated,' and recalled that 'we strongly supported former Deputy Secretary Carter's efforts to build stronger defence ties with the largest democracy in the world.'

Thus, they said Hagel would 'carry on that essential initiative and assign the incoming deputy secretary or a comparable level official to lead this very important initiative.'

Warner and Cornyn predicted that 'by working together, both India and the United States can achieve shared goals in the region and form an unwavering bond between the world's two largest democracies, all while elevating the relationship to a true strategic partnership.'

Image: 2nd squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 'Strykehorse,' 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division and Indian Army's 7th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, 94th Armored Brigade, 31st Armored Division perform a medical evacuation during a combined arms live fire exercise

Photograph: US Army photo by Sgt 1st Class Rodney Jackson   

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC