Since the signing of India-US defence cooperation in 1995, both countries have augmented all their efforts in creating a conducive atmosphere for a win-win situation. India has worked with four Presidents since 1995 (Clinton, Junior Bush, Obama and Trump), which witnessed a combination of both Democrats and Republicans. The US found India to be a both responsible and reliable partner in the evolving dynamics of geopolitics. India has figured prominently on the US radar across Presidencies on almost all the key decisions taken on defence cooperation.

Even during the concluding days of the Trump administration, the US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and the US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper visited India for the “2+2” Dialogue between the Defence and Foreign Ministries of the two countries. One of the most notable developments of this visit was the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on geospatial intelligence sharing, the last of the foundational agreements. This is in addition to the earlier signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) have given a new direction to growing interoperability between the militaries of India and the US. Almost 15 years of the implementation of the India-US defence agreed framework agreement of 2005 have produced a number of tangibles making the United States one of India’s most robust defence partners. Whether it is in the realm of defence sales and purchase, the growing sophistication of military-to-military exercises and the potential for co-production of defence equipment, the cooperation has been outcome oriented. There is no denying the fact that the cooperation in the defence sector has become the highlight of the India-US strategic partnership. The evolving threat perceptions from an aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific region, has accentuated the imperative for great synergy in the defence partnership, which stands on a strong footing as the Biden administration sets out to take the baton of the India-US relationship.

There has been a discernible broad arc of positive continuity as far as India-US defence cooperation is concerned. India has been named a major defence partner of the US and convergences on the global and regional security environment have given rise to growing cooperation in capability enhancement and capacity building. The renaming of the US Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command reflected a growing recognition of India’s role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. This has brought a sharper focus on the maritime cooperation between India and the United States, seen in both greater defence sales and purchase as well as augmented maritime information sharing to increase India’s maritime domain awareness. The Indian Navy and the naval arm of the US Central Command (NAVCENT) has been showing a greater sense of joint purpose and action for maintaining peace and stability in the Indian Ocean.

As the military-to-military engagement across all the services and the sophistication of their exercises increase through implementation of the foundation agreements, it might be incumbent upon both countries to create greater synergy in traditional as well as non-traditional areas of operations. How different military commands of the United States operating across the globe can engage further with the Indian military across different domains will remain a matter of priority in the times to come. The inclusion of the Australian Navy in the latest Malabar exercise has added a new dimension to the trilateral arrangement between India, the US and Japan, and given new heft to the Quadrilateral Security Initiative (Quad).

India and the United States have come a long way as far defence sales and purchase are concerned. In a very short period, India has emerged as one of the major destinations of high-end US defence equipment despite India not being a traditional ally of the United States. The defence equipment purchased from the United States are meant to enhance India’s capabilities in land, sea and air based assets. For instance, US origin equipment, including long range maritime patrol aircraft are being seen as instrumental in enhancing India’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities in the Indian Ocean. In recent times, the focus has been to shift from a buyer and seller relationship to that of greater technology sharing, joint innovation, co-production and co-development. In this context, the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) has been a mainstay of the level of cooperation achieved and envisioned. Four joint working groups under the aegis of the DTTI have been focussing on cooperation on land, naval, air and aircraft carrier technologies. Other significant initiatives include the meeting between the Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO-iDEX) and US Defense Innovation United (DIU) and the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) mechanism. Much has been achieved in a short span of time in the India-US defence cooperation, but much requires to be done to create all round synergy between the two militaries, as well the respective defence industrial bases in the two countries. The dynamics of the global and regional security environment would require India and the United States to constantly revisit the standard operating procedures and innovate new areas of defence cooperation, in order to create a robust joint deterrent capability across the Indo-Pacific region.

President Biden will have no choice but to maintain continuity in their foreign policy orientations and intensify defence cooperation. India has also reached a stage where it can negotiate with the United States from a position of strength. The United States will play a dominant role in helping India realise its dream of Make in India through joint ventures and co-production. India’s “buy and make” proposition with defence offsets obligations will obviously be the priority in the emerging scenario. How Biden will drive its course of action in building synergy with India forms a major part of the discourse.

Arvind Kumar is Professor of American Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU. Monish Tourangbam is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.