US, India to carry out large-scale joint military exercises in 2019

World’s two largest democracies also sign agreement allowing them to exchange sensitive military information quickly and securely, a sign of Washington’s trust

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 10:50pm

The United States and Indian militaries will carry out large-scale joint exercises off India next year, top officials said Thursday.

The drills would be a first of sorts – the two countries’ forces have not previously trained simultaneously in the air, on the land and at sea.

Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman made the announcement at the end of a summit with US defence secretary James Mattis, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.

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“We have decided to carry out for the first time a tri-services joint exercise with the United States off the eastern coast of India in 2019,” Sitharaman said.

The two countries also signed a “Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement”, known as COMCASA, that will enable them to exchange sensitive military information quickly and securely.

The US only signs COMCASA agreements with trusted allies, and Washington hopes to deepen its military ties with India.

Washington, however, is concerned about an imminent deal India is making with Russia to buy the S-400 missile system.

None of the officials who spoke after the talks made any reference to where things stand on that issue.

India and the US also vowed closer cooperation in counterterrorism operations.

The US and India began talks in New Delhi to deepen political and security ties on Thursday

The world’s two largest democracies have drawn closer in recent years, seeking ways to counterbalance China’s spreading influence across Asia, notably in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

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“My visit is a firm indicator of what we see as India’s place among our most strategic, and I would even call them ‘consequential’ emerging partners,” Mattis said.

Before coming to India, Pompeo held talks in Islamabad with Pakistan’s new government and senior most generals.

The presence of US troops in Afghanistan has heightened US sensitivity to the rivalry between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. And, Washington and New Delhi share concerns over Pakistan-based anti-Western and anti-Indian Islamist militant groups.

The United States has emerged as India’s second largest arms supplier, closing US$15 billion worth of deals in the past decade.

Once the communications accord is in place it could lead to the sale of an armed version of Guardian drones, as Washington has so far only authorised the sale of unarmed, surveillance versions of the aircraft.

Experts believe the signing of the agreement could also reduce the chances of the United States imposing sanctions on India for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

The United States has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, under which any country engaged with its defence and intelligence sectors could face secondary US sanctions.

However, a new defence bill proposes giving the US president authority to grant waivers when national security interests are at stake.

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The United States is also pushing countries to halt oil imports from Iran after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that was intended to stall Tehran’s developing nuclear capabilities.

India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China, and it is seeking a waiver from the United States.

Ahead of the talks in New Delhi, a senior US state department official said the United States was engaged in “very detailed conversations” with India over Washington’s request to completely stop India’s oil imports from Iran.

“We’re asking all of our partners, not just India, to reduce to zero oil imports from Iran and so I’m confident that will be part of our conversation with India,” the official said.

Reporting from Agence France-Presse and Reuters