India-US Maritime Cooperation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated a maritime vision for Indian–Pacific Region and the concept of Indo-Pacific security. He is convinced that India’s development depends upon the freedom of sea lanes of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In his policy of not only ‘Look East but also act East’, he has reached out to other maritime nations in the region like Japan, US and Australia.

Issue: 2 / 2018By Lt General Naresh Chand (Retd)Photo(s): By US Navy
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson presents a plaque to Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba at the Pentagon. The two heads of Navy met with Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and discussed ways to integrate and improve interoperability.

President Barack Obama had said that the US and India will be one of the “defining partnerships in the 21st century. The US’ relationship with India has the potential to alter the power dynamics in Asia and the world, given the two nations combined political, diplomatic, economic, and military capacities. A key component of this partnership will be US-India defense and security ties”. The US Department of Defence, while issuing fresh strategic guidelines during January 2012, stressed on “rebalancing” toward the Asia-Pacific region. In the document, allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia were grouped together as existing allies while focus on India was made by stating that the US is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region. The key operative words in this context was ‘strategic partnership and security in the broader Indian Ocean region’. This specifically implied maritime cooperation with India on a long term basis apart from other areas of cooperation. It was clear that the economic and security interests of US were linked with the developments in the region extending from the Western Pacific, East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.

Since the 90s, India and US have been taking baby steps towards each other to establish a frame work for defence cooperation. In January 1995, the Agreed Minute on Defense Relations between India and the US was signed. The rapidly evolving Geo-political environment resulted in both countries signing during 2005,the ‘New Framework for Defense Cooperation’, which outlined a number of areas for military cooperation. This was followed by the ‘Disaster Relief Initiative’ in 2005 and the ‘Maritime Security Cooperation Framework in 2006’. The foundation of the New Framework for the USIndia Defense Relationship was based on the axiom that the world’s two largest democracies agree on the vital importance of political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law, security, and opportunity around the world with defence being the key element of the broader US-India strategic partnership which also protected the free flow of commerce through land, sea and air. To facilitate and guide the Indo-US relationship forward, Defense Policy Group, Defense Procurement and Production Group, Joint Technical Group, the Military Cooperation Group and the Senior Technology Security Group were formed. A Joint Working Group for mid-year review of work overseen by the Defense Policy Group was also instituted.

Indo-US framework for Maritime Security Cooperation

India and the US have committed themselves to comprehensive cooperation in ensuring a secure maritime domain which would include protection of free flow of commerce and to counter threats that could undermine maritime security. This involved enhancing security to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea; threats to safety of ships, crew, and property; safety of navigation; prevent transnational organized crimes in all dimensions; the illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials; environmental degradation; and natural disaster. Necessary mechanism was set up to facilitate all aspects of maritime security. Another key aspect was cooperation in the field of maritime technology cooperation which India needs badly. The other areas pertain to operations, training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), policing duties, intelligence sharing and joint patrolling. There are a few impediments in the pursuance of maritime cooperation with US. One of the primary one is that India has been traditionally following a policy of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ which makes it difficult to become a very close ally of any country.

Other Joint Endeavours

Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) was launched in 2012, which is an unprecedented joint endeavour that brings sustained leadership focus to the bilateral defense trade relationship, creates opportunities for US-India co-production and co-development, and fosters more sophisticated science and technology cooperation, all while ensuring that bureaucratic processes and procedures do not stand in the way of the progress. The year 2014 saw the endorsement of the India-US Declaration on Defense Cooperation, a document that reflects the US’ and India’s commitment to a long-term strategic partnership, through which both the countries cooperate to increase the security and prosperity of our citizens and the global community.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met President Donald Trump during June 2017 where they vowed to further India-US defence and security partnership, a highly visible symbol of which is Malabar naval exercise

President Obama was the Chief Guest for India’s 66th Republic Day Celebrations during 2015. The visit resulted in key several defense outcomes, including the completion of the 2015 Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship, which will guide and expand both the nations’ bilateral defense and strategic partnership over the next 10 years; Agreement to pursue four pathfinder projects under the DTTI as well as cooperation on Aircraft Carriers and Jet Engine Technology; and Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which affirms the shared vision for promising prosperity and stability in the region. Prime Narendra Modi said it all when he stated , “We have to convert a good start into lasting progress. This requires translating our vision into sustained action and concrete achievements,” while responding to President Obama. Maritime cooperation with US has moved faster than the other two services.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met President Donald Trump during June 2017 where they vowed to further India-US defence and security partnership, a highly visible symbol of which is Malabar naval exercise. At that time US also agreed to sell 22 Predator Sea Guardian surveillance drones worth about $2 billion.

Joint Naval Exercise

Commenting on the Malabar exercise, Trump said, “Our militaries are working every day to enhance cooperation, and next month (July 2017) they will join together with the Japanese Navy to take part in the largest maritime exercise ever conducted in the vast Indian Ocean.“ India deployed for the first time its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya for an exercise with foreign countries along with US’ nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, apart from many frontline ships, submarines and naval aircraft. US also wanted to expand the exercise to include Japan, Australia and Singapore which was viewed by China as a sort of ganging up against it. The enlarged scope of Exercise Malabar will contribute to build interoperability in the Asia-Pacific region. During 2007,such an enlarged exercise was held but India shied away from repeating it after China protested but it is back on the anvil. Indian Navy has been conducting four type of exercises with the US Navy, out of which Malabar has the highest visibility. Malabar series of exercises began in 1992 and includes diverse naval activities to include aircraft carrier, operations, maritime interdiction etc. Three exercises were conducted prior to 1998, when the US suspended the exercises due to India carrying out nuclear tests. They were resumed after 9/11 attacks in 2002. On January26, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama agreed to upgrade exercise Malabar to make it multi-lateral.

Progress on maritime Cooperation

8thDTTI Inter Agency Task Force Meeting. As part of lndo-US Bilateral Defence Cooperation, the 8thDTTI Inter Agency Task Force Meeting was held on February 26, 2018 at Delhi. The meeting was co-chaired by Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff Vice Admiral A.K. Jain and Acting Director, International Cooperation Matthew Warren. A number of Joint Working Groups spanning varied projects have been established under DTTI on both sides, which have identified various projects for the Armed Forces. The fact that the US has declared India as a major defence partner under the National Defence Authorisation Act in 2017 has given an impetus to the DTTI. Speaking on the occasion, Vice Admiral A K Jain brought out that India’s Defence Industry was in a growing stage and looking to acquire niche technology in manufacturing Defence weapons and equipment. This will also give a boost to India’s flagship ‘Make in India’ initiative. The US Co-chair, Matthew Warren highlighted that defence cooperation between the two countries is continuing to make progress.

Visit of Admiral Sunil Lanba’s to US

Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee and the CNS was on a bilateral visit to US from March 10-23, 2018 with the aim of consolidating cooperation between the Armed Forces of both the countries and also to explore new avenues of defence cooperation. During the visit he held discussions with James Mattis, Secretary Defence, Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy and other other key defence naval officers. Admiral Lanba visited the Pacific Command Headquarters at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, the Naval Surface Warfare Centre Dahlgren, the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and Admiral Sunil Lanba met with Secretary of Navy Richard V. Spencer at the Pentagon on March 21 and discussed ways to improve interoperability to include additional naval exercises and staff talks. “The relationship between the US Navy and the Indian Navy has never been stronger,” said Richardson. “There has been meaningful progress made in strengthening the cooperation between our two great democratic and maritime nations. We are exploring every way to expand that partnership even further based on our shared interests.” This is Richardson’s fourth meeting with Lanba.

Prime Minister Modi’s vision for Asia Pacific region

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated a maritime vision for Indian–Pacific Region and the concept of Indo-Pacific security. He is convinced that India’s development depends upon the freedom of sea lanes of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In his policy of not only’look East but also act East’, he has reached out to other maritime nations in the region like Japan, US and Australia. He is also trying to strengthen ties with all associations and symposiums of the region like Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Asia Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). He has also not neglected small island nations in the Indian Ocean and in the South Pacific.

The Quadrilateral (QUAD) Initiative was the brainchild of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which he unfurled in 2007. It was named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) which was formatted to be an informal strategic dialogue platform between the member countries.

Quadrilateral Initiative

The Quadrilateral (QUAD) Initiative was the brainchild of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which he unfurled in 2007. It was named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) which was formatted to be an informal strategic dialogue platform between the member countries. To underscore the synergy of the QDS, a large scale joint naval exercise called Malabar was also held in 2007. QDS was widely interpreted as a diplomatic and military counter to China’s growing economic and military power. As expected, the Chinese Government reacted strongly by recording formal protest to all the members of QUAD. The QSD faded away when Australia withdrew from it. Japan revived the four-way dialogue with India, Australia and the US on the side-lines of the East Asia Summit in Philippines held from November 13-14, 2017 with the hope that revived QUAD would once again strive to counter China’s aggressive projection of naval and economic power in Asia. In New Delhi, it was viewed as India injecting fresh energy into the defence ties with Japan, Australia and US. The Indian policy makers are also ready to accept the opening of a democratic security-alliance in Asia. Apart from the military dimension, it is hoped that there will be an economic alliance to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told the media on November 15, 2017 that the idea of QUAD is for the leaders of the four nations to promote free trade and defense cooperation across a stretch of ocean from the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and all the way to Africa. The response of US came through Alice Wells, Washington’s acting assistant secretary of state for South Asia, while accompanying Tillerson on a visit to India on October 28, 2017 that Washington was “looking at a working level Quadrilateral meeting in the near term. The quadrilateral the Japanese foreign minister discussed would be building on a very productive trilateral we have with India and Japan. Wells rejected the idea that the forum would be aimed at containing China. She said it would seek to coordinate alternatives for nations seeking investment in infrastructure and economic development, “that don’t include predatory financing or unsustainable debt. “It’s hard to see a meeting of diplomats from four countries as a plan to contain China,” she said. “It’s a natural progression and convergence of interests between democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region.” It is still work in progress due to India’s policy of Strategic Autonomy. Also President Trump is preoccupied with Russia, North Korea and intra country trade and tariff issues. It will all depend upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Asia Pacific vision and his outreach to Japan, Australia and US as to shape the contours of QDS.