Defence cooperation deal makes India ‘closest partner’ of the US

It said the two countries would 'improve' and 'expedite' licence processes and approvals.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New York | Published:September 29, 2013 3:14 am

Washington has placed New Delhi in the category of “closest partners” for defence cooperation,putting India on a par with the United States’s closest allies like the United Kingdom when it comes to transfer of defence technology.

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This significant milestone was crossed on Friday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama endorsed a joint declaration on defence cooperation,which takes forward the 2005 framework agreement on defence.

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“The United States and India share common security interests and place each other at the same level as their closest partners. This principle will apply with respect to defence technology transfer,trade,research,co-development and co-production for defence articles and services,including the most advanced and sophisticated technology,” the declaration said.

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It said the two countries would “improve” and “expedite” licence processes and approvals. “The US and India are also committed to protecting each other’s sensitive technology information.”

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It is reliably learnt that these are exactly the terms the US offers to its closest military allies. The word “partners” was used at India’s instance as New Delhi did not want this to appear like a strategic alliance. India has dropped its insistence on not conducting multilateral military exercises involving the US by accepting to participate in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific Exercise in Hawaii,the world’s largest multilateral maritime exercise expected to involve nearly two dozen countries. Obama welcomed India’s decision in the joint statement.

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The US Navy’s Pacific fleet is the one responsible for administering this exercise,which usually involves navies from countries like the UK,Australia,France,Canada,Singapore and Indonesia.

The defence declaration,from India’s point of view,is a step that helps address doubts on the level of technology the US was willing to transfer to India in case of co-development and co-production of weapon systems. This has been an important rider for the defence ministry,which has linked raising FDI limits in the sector to the nature,scope and level of technology on offer.

Later,in his address to key business leaders here,Singh clarified India’s position on FDI in defence. “We have taken steps to make India more attractive for foreign direct investment. FDI limits have been increased in several sectors,including retail and telecom,and restrictions in the banking sector have been eased. The policy regarding FDI in defence has been clarified to indicate that FDI beyond 26 per cent can also be considered on merits.”

Other elements of the declaration include US reaffirmation to support India’s membership in international export control regimes,as that would facilitate technology-sharing. Both sides have agreed to “address process-related difficulties” in defence trade and collaboration.

The two sides agreed to identify specific projects to reflect this partnership “within the next year”.

Just before Singh’s visit,the US had made two proposals for co-development and co-production in India — the next generation Javelin anti-tank missiles and Vehicle-based Mine Scattering System. By agreeing to this declaration,sources said,India has shown its inclination to consider these proposals positively.

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