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US, India up coordination – Bid to balance China’s military ambitions

Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (right), greets US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during his visit to the Indian Naval Base in Karwar, Karnataka state, India on April 11. (AP)
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (right), greets US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during his visit to the Indian Naval Base in Karwar, Karnataka state, India on April 11. (AP)

NEW DELHI, April 12, (Agencies): The US and India have reached a preliminary agreement that will make it easier for the two countries’ militaries to work together in disasters or other emergencies, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday. During a joint news conference with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, Carter said the two countries have “agreed in principle” on the logistical agreement, and it could be finalized in weeks. Parrikar estimated it will take about a month. Carter said the two countries expect to soon reach a second pact to improve the sharing of information on commercial shipping, in a move to beef up security on the seas.

US defense officials said the first agreement will help the two militaries coordinate better, including in exercises, and also allow the US to more easily sell fuel or provide spare parts to the Indians. They said the Indians had a number of questions about what they may be obligated to do as a result of the agreement, including whether it would give US forces access to Indian military bases. They were assured it would not do that. Carter said that while sharing logistical assets may seem like it should be automatic, it isn’t.

Although some of that can be done now, through what officials called “workarounds,” the agreement will help expedite such transactions. While officials touted the signing as an important step, there was less progress on other programs the US would like to partner with India on. Those would include cooperation on the development of jet engines and aircraft carrier technologies. According to the defense officials, discussions are continuing on how the two countries may be able to collaborate as India begins development of its next aircraft carrier. The officials were not authorized to discuss details of the talks, so they spoke on condition of anonymity.

Carter on Monday noted that India wants to move to a flat-deck design of its aircraft carriers, he said the US is “more than willing” to share its catapult technology used to launch fighter jets off carriers. Defense officials said that if India begins using the catapult technology, then there could be opportunities for India to buy US-made FA- 18 fighter jets or other aircraft that use that launching system.

Last June, during a visit to India, Carter and Parrikar signed a defense agreement, as part of a broader US effort to improve what has been a rocky relationship between the two countries. And he announced two $1 million joint research ventures. While small, defense officials say the twoyear projects will set the groundwork for future collaboration. Projects On Tuesday, Carter announced that the two countries have now agreed to start two more co-development projects — one for digital, helmet-mounted displays and one for biological detection system.

Four other projects, valued at about $44 million, are being finalized and would involve high energy lasers, target detection, small drones and traumatic brain injury. Last year, Carter acknowledged the difficulties on both sides in breaking through the red tape to achieve more development cooperation, but said things are moving forward. This week, officials said they believe that with one agreement achieved, it will be easier to work through others. Meanwhile, Carter met Indian leaders in New Delhi, seeking to bolster a strategic relationship Washington sees as crucial in the face of China’s growing military ambitions.

Washington has increasingly turned its focus to Asia as it tries to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, and is eager for India to play a greater role in its network of regional defence alliances. India, the world’s biggest arms importer, wants access to US technology so it can develop sophisticated weapons at home — a key part of Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to boost domestic manufacturing. “Both our values and our interests overlap in so many important ways, and that happens with few countries around the globe,” Carter told reporters late Monday in India.

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China was “operating more frequently both throughout Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean”, something both Washington and New Delhi were “watching closely”. Modi, who enjoys close ties with US President Barack Obama, has criticised what he called China’s “expansionist mindset”. Regional superpower China is expanding its deep-water naval presence and staking a claim to disputed areas of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

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