New Delhi: Defence cooperation has emerged as the most significant dimension of India and the United States strategic partnership and as a key driver of the overall bilateral relationship, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.
Speaking to the media after the conclusion of inaugural 2+2 Dialogue between India and the US, which was attended by US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of Defence James N. Mattis, India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Sitharaman, the Defence Minister said that the discussions on Thursday have paved way for a new era in India-US defence and strategic engagement.
Terming the meeting as "most productive, positive and purposeful", Sitharaman announced the signing of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) saying this will enable India access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India's defence preparedness.
"We are also putting in place an enabling framework for closer cooperation between our defence forces. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and the Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) earlier this year were important steps in this direction. The signing of COMCASA today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India's defence preparedness," she said.
While talking about India-US joint exercises, Sitharaman said that to enhance synergies in this area, the two sides have decided to carry out, for the first time, a tri-Services joint exercise with the US off the eastern coast of India in 2019.
"Maritime Security has been a focus area of our cooperation. To deepen our ties in this area, we will expand our interactions on Maritime Domain Awareness. The United States has renamed its Pacific Command responsible for relations with India as Indo-Pacific Command. Reflecting our wider global partnership, we will also enhance our interactions with the United States military's Central Command," she said.
The minister underlined that one of the focus areas of the discussions was on expanding the scope and content of the US' designation of India as its Major Defence Partner (MDP). "We welcome the recent decision to elevate India to STA Tier 1 status for access to advanced technologies, especially in the defence field. I am confident that this and other measures to follow will enable our defence industry cooperation to make speedy progress for mutual benefit," the Defence Minister said.
During the talks with the US, the Indian side highlighted the major reforms implemented by the Indian government to promote defence manufacturing under the Make in India initiative, including setting up of defence manufacturing corridors.
"We welcome the US' positive response to India's request to nominate a Point of Contact in the US Department of Defense to help address procedural complexities and facilitate Indian companies to join the manufacturing supply chains of US defence companies. We also identified cooperation in defence innovation as a major area of emphasis for the future. As our defence needs become increasingly driven by technology, this is both necessary and timely. I am particularly thankful to have Secretary Mattis, who has spent several years in Silicon Valley, as our interlocutor in taking this aspect of our ties forward. The Memorandum of Intent between our defence innovation agencies is a first step in this direction," Sitharaman said.
"Given our shared interests, we are confident that we can work together to promote peace, economic prosperity and security in our region and beyond," Sitharaman said. She added that the two countries will work together to combat the persisting threat of terrorism and other shared security challenges.
"As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had succinctly stated at his address to the US Congress a year ago, India's relations with the US have overcome the hesitations of history. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of defence," she said.
"In our discussions, we explored the instrumentalities necessary to deliver on those shared objectives," Sitharaman said. She added that the momentum in their defence partnership has imbued a tremendous positive energy that has elevated India-US relations to unprecedented heights. "Given our shared interests, we are confident that we can work together to promote peace, economic prosperity and security in our region and beyond," Sitharaman said.