According to the Pentagon, the bilateral defense trade between the two countries is expected to reach USD 18 billion by the year end. The relationship marks a slow but sure drift in India’s sourcing of defense procurement on one hand and defense partnership on the other. This is expected to get further fillip in the forthcoming ninth India-US Defence Technologies and Trade Initiative or DTTI group in New Delhi next week. This trend is clearly reaffirmed by a recent statement of Ellen M Lord, Undersecretary Of Defense For Acquisition And Sustainment that the US is committed to strengthen its partnership with India while furthering military-to-military relationships and cooperation.
India –US bilateral defense trade shows a rising trend since 2008, rising from a negligible level to an estimated $18 billion by the end of 2019. This indicates diversification in the source of defense procurement of India. India had been traditionally procuring defense related products mainly from Russia. This is also an evidence to India’s increasing realism in military partnership given fast changing geo-political scenario. This is also an evidence of India’s interest in acquiring state of the art modern technology based defense equipment. In the quest for increased military partnership with India, the US granted the India Strategic Trade Authority Tier 1 designation in August 2018, providing New Delhi with greater supply-chain efficiency by allowing American companies to export a greater range of dual-use and high-technology items to India under streamlined processes. This is said to have granted India the same authorisation as NATO allies Japan, South Korea and Australia. Earlier the Pentagon in its defense policy related documents substituted “Asia-Pacific” by “Indo-Pacific” clearly Indicating that United States is interested to give more importance to India in its Asia policy and interest in working together in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Indo-US partnership, however, requires a clever balancing its relationship with its traditional partners like Russia. India is the second largest market for the Russian defense industry. In 2017, approximately 68% of the Indian Military’s hardware import came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defense equipment. Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, Russia has expressed interest in joining SAARC with observer status in which India is a founding member. Russia with 68%, USA 14% and Israel 7.2% are the major arms suppliers to India (2012-2016), and India and Russia have deepened their Make in India defense manufacturing cooperation by signing agreements for the construction of naval frigates, KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters (joint venture (JV) to make 60 in Russia and 140 in India), Brahmos cruise missile (JV with 50.5% India and 49.5% Russia) (Dec 2017 update). Under the leadership of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin, the bilateral relationship has seen further growth and development. An informal meeting between them in 2018 at Sochi helped accelerate the partnership, displaying the role of interaction and cooperation between India and Russia.