Once unthinkable to a level of being a taboo subject during the cold war, US-India military relations have grown exponentially since the signing of a new Defense framework agreement in 2005. Annual bilateral training exercises (known as Yudh Abhyas involving India’s 99th Mountain Brigade and the American 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade) have been warmly received and annual US sales of military equipment to India now top $8 billion. Given ongoing and serious security challenges in the region, fostering even more efficient and effective US-India defense ties is a critical bilateral priority with significant potential yet to be tapped.
American Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made a visit to New Delhi a year ago and stressed the urgency of exploring bilateral missile defense cooperation. Ongoing debate over FDI liberalization of India’s defense sector has dominated dialogue since, but consultations on joint co-development of military systems could be the breakthrough that helps generate considerably more trade and boost U.S. export revenue.
On purely strategic grounds, India must show greater resolve in developing its ballistic missile defense capabilities. Its neighbors China and Pakistan possess formidable ballistic and cruise missile forces. Internal political and ideological concerns within the government over becoming more interlinked with the United States on defense matters over traditional suppliers like Russia, and how it affects India’s strategic authority, will have to be addressed in a more serious and urgent manner.
Given that Pakistan has refused to commit to a no-first-use policy and grave international concerns over the safety and security of sensitive Pakistani military equipment, the United States should make every effort to help India develop missile defense technology and overcome compulsions to do so purely indigenously. The American experience in South Asia over the past ten years have exposed a rather pressing need for The United States to find and develop more stable and reliable strategic partners and stronger, more co-operative guarantors of regional stability. If longstanding biases can be overcome, it will considerably improve the security situation in Asia and further one of the critical bilateral relationships in the geopolitical sphere.