US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Travels To India

US Army Sgt. Gurpreet Gill, left, shakes hands with an Indian army officer at Chaubattia Military Station, India, Sept. 24, 2018. Gill, who is originally from India, was taking part in Yudh Abhyas, an exercise that enhances the joint capabilities of the US and Indian armies through training and cultural exchange, and helps foster enduring partnerships in the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

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Washington, DC – US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III embarked on his maiden overseas trip Saturday, March 13, to visit the US Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii, US troops and senior government leaders in Japan and the Republic of Korea, and senior government leaders in India.

According to a Pentagon press release, “In India, Secretary Austin will meet with his counterpart, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh, and other senior national security leaders to discuss deepening the US-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”

The Indian government welcomed the visit of Secretary Austin from march 19 to 21, 2021. The meetings would have discussions regarding defense cooperation and how both nations could consolidate “military-to-military cooperation and defense trade and industry cooperation.”

The two allies have already set a win-win situation for both countries as the Indian government has ordered 80 plus Light Combat Aircraft “Tejas” from an Indian company but the engines will be provided by General Electric of the US, thus generating jobs on both sides.

In 2016, the United States designated India as a Major Defense Partner. Commensurate with this designation, in 2018, India was elevated to Strategic Trade Authorization tier 1 status, which allows India to receive license-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the Department of Commerce.

Working alongside interagency partners, the Political-Military Affairs (PM) Bureau of the US defense and state departments is in the forefront of efforts to advance the defense trade relationship and broader security partnership between the United States and India.

According to a fact sheet on the “US Security Cooperation With India,” from the PM Bureau, published by the State Department on January 20, 2021: “US-India defense trade cooperation continues to expand with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA) now in place.”

The PM Bureau supported the increase in total defense trade with India from near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020. The PM Bureau stressed its commitment to “further streamlining US-India defense sales we facilitate through both the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) processes.”

The report highlighted the facts that these sales support thousands of jobs in both countries and help ensure the health of both countries’ defense industrial bases.

FMS sales notified to Congress for recent and significant prior sales include:
MH-60R Seahawk helicopters ($2.8 billion),
Apache helicopters ($796 million),
and the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure ($189 million).

The report noted that India was the first non-treaty partner to be offered a Missile Technology Control Regime Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System – the Sea Guardian UAS manufactured by General Atomics.

The PM Bureau continues to support advocacy for the Lockheed Martin F-21 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15EX Eagle as part of India’s future fighter aircraft acquisitions. A potential selection of any of these platforms would enhance India’s military capabilities, increase US-India military interoperability, and protect shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Since 2015, the United States also authorized India over $3 billion in defense articles via the DCS process, which licenses the export of the defense equipment, services, and related manufacturing technologies controlled under the 21 categories of the US Munitions List (USML).

The top DCS categories to India during this period were military electronics (USML category XI); fire control, laser, imaging, and guidance equipment (category XII); and aircraft and related articles.

The visit comes on the heels of the Quad summit, as Washington focuses on China as an emerging threat. During the recent Quad summit, US President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India, Yoshihide Sugo of Japan and Scott Morrison of Australia, discussed freedom of navigation and “freedom from coercion” in the South and East China Seas, which are basically about China.

During the past year, India has faced border incursions by China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and clashes – with one in May 2020 – resulting in the deaths of soldiers on both sides.

Both the US and India officials are looking forward to not only an enhanced cooperation but also sharing intelligence information to contain Beijing’s hegemonic sway over its neighbors.

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