India’s China fears give new impetus to US defence ties, arms sales
- Closer ties are a win-win as the US needs more jobs in an election year while India needs a new weapons source amid Russian neutrality in Sino-Indian clashes
- Heightened defence cooperation is a bright spot in a US-India relationship that has hit rocky ground elsewhere amid differences over trade and tariffs
It has bought a wide array of US-made weapon platforms, including the P-8I, C-130J and C-17 transport aircraft, CH-47 heavy lift helicopters and Apache AH-64E attack helicopters. Many of these advanced weapon systems have already been inducted into the Indian defence services.
At the same time, New Delhi and Washington have signed agreements such as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement. The logistics agreement allows Indian and US troops to use designated military facilities for refuelling and replenishment. The communications compatibility agreement is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement, one of the foundational agreements the United States signs with allies and close partners.
In addition, India and the US signed a landmark 2008 civilian nuclear deal, which is significant since India is not a signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India’s growing arms imports from the US have improved their bilateral ties. New Delhi now conducts more annual military exercises with Washington than with any other nation. In July, eight Indian and American warships – including the nuclear-powered carrier USS Nimitz – conducted a passage exercise in the Indian Ocean.
US firms see the Indian weapons market as a big opportunity. This has helped create jobs in the US, which is important for US President Donald Trump in an election year. It is worth noting that India is one of the biggest arms importers in the world.
Closer ties with Washington helps India’s case. The US and India also have converging interests in countries such as Afghanistan, especially in the wake of the US deciding to pull out troops from the country.
All told, defence is a bright spot in India’s relationship with the US. It is no wonder sales of US weapons to India have risen from almost zero in 2008 to tens of billions of dollars each year. The economic front, on the other hand, has not been so bright.
The current crisis with China has injected a sense of urgency into the Indian defence establishment in terms of procuring advanced weaponry, which will give further impetus to India-US defence ties. As they say, it takes two to tango.
Dr Rupakjyoti Borah is an associate professor with Sharda University, India. His forthcoming book is The Strategic Relations between India, the United States and Japan in the Indo-Pacific: When Three is Not a Crowd. The views expressed here are personal