Underlining the bipartisan American consensus on building stronger US-India security ties, outgoing US ambassador Ken Juster said President Donald Trump’s nurturing of relations with New Delhi had consolidated the work of two previous American presidents.
“While our strategic partnership has been on an upward trajectory over the past two decades, the past four years stand out as a time of ambition and achievement in the relationship,” he said.
Stating that Washington “has been dedicated… to supporting India’s rise on the world stage”, Juster pointed out that the 2017 US National Security Strategy had welcomed “India’s emergence as a leading power and stronger strategic and defence partner”.
Citing a “shared vision of the Indo-Pacific”, Juster said that, in 2018, the US Department of Defence (the Pentagon) had renamed its Hawaii-based Pacific Command (PACOM) as the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). That same year, India’s foreign ministry established a new “Indo-Pacific Division”.
“We have come to a consensus on the geographical contours of this (Indo-Pacific) region — stretching from the shores of the East Coast of Africa to the West Coast of the US,” he said.
Juster said the signing of three pivotal defence agreements — one at each of the 2+2 dialogues, between both countries foreign and defence ministers — was among the most significant achievements in strengthening the US-India defence partnership.
“At the first ministerial (2+2 dialogue in 2018), we concluded the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement — known as COMCASA — to enhance the real-time exchange of sensitive information between our two militaries. At the second ministerial in 2019, we signed the Industrial Security Annex to our General Security of Military Information Agreement, in order to share sensitive government information with industry and facilitate more industrial collaboration. And at the most recent Ministerial in 2020, we signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement — known as BECA — to share geospatial information, including nautical and aeronautical data,” he said.
Juster underlined the unprecedented increase in the two militaries’ ability to operate together. “In 2020, the US, for the first time, posted a naval officer to an Indian military facility — the newly-established Indian Ocean Information Fusion Centre in Gurugram. Similarly, India posted, for the first time, a naval officer to a US Combatant Command — the US Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain,” he said.
The US ambassador mentioned India’s continuing procurement of American weaponry. “In the past three years, the Indian military has inducted several US-origin platforms, including Apache attack helicopters, Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, and M777 ultra-lightweight artillery.” While Juster did not mention the cost of these purchases, they have taken the value of US weaponry procured by India over the last 15 years to over $20 billion.
Juster stated the defence industrial relationship was not just about buying US arms, but also about American companies establishing a presence in India, creating jobs and drawing on the pool of engineering and other talent in India.
“I participated in the inauguration of the Tata-Boeing Aerospace joint venture in Hyderabad, which will soon be the sole location for production of Apache helicopter fuselages. And I visited the Tata-Lockheed Aerostructures joint venture, also in Hyderabad, which supplies all of Lockheed’s C-130 empennages and soon will be its source for F-16 wings, he said.
Juster said Washington has eased export control regulations for India, easing the flow of high-technology US weaponry. “We granted India, in 2018, Strategic Trade Authorization, Tier One status — known as STA-1. This benefit is normally limited to our closest allies, and now enables India to access many of our highly-regulated technology items,” he said.