Guwahati: “The India-US relationship can be a pillar of stability in an increasingly unsteady and uncertain world”, said Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International. 

He made the statement at a workshop organised by CUTS International under the Defense News Conclave Project, being implemented with the support of the US State Department (US Consulate Kolkata) and knowledge support from the US-India Business Council (USIBC). 

Pushan Das, India Head, Aerospace & Defense, USIBC gave brief introductory remarks and said he looked forward to furthering programmes being organised under this initiative. 

This workshop series aims at creating awareness about the importance of India-US defence relations, particularly in the context of contemporary developments in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The first workshop, titled “The Relevance of India-US Defense Relations in the Indo-Pacific”, saw distinguished panellists addressing thematic issues relating to Indo-Pacific geopolitics and geoeconomics, naval cooperation and maritime governance in the Indo-Pacific region. 

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Jyoti Malhotra, Senior Consulting Editor, ThePrint and event moderator, noted that the defence partnership underpins the India-US relationship. 

Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, United Service Institution of India and Member, Management Board, CUTS International Washington DC Center, traced the historical arc of India-US defence relations. 

He observed that the strategic relationship with the US has always been intertwined with transactional and commercial aspects involving arms transfers and the sale of defence equipment. He cited the circumstances surrounding the 123 Agreement and India-US cooperation on civilian nuclear energy in this context.

Commodore Sujeet Samaddar, Founding Member, Society for Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Studies (SAMDeS) highlighted the prospects for greater India-US cooperation in defence services, including by establishing ship refurbishment and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities, which can benefit all Quad navies. 

Indranil Banerjie, Analyst, Foreign Policy and National Security Issues, emphasised the need for the Quad to deliver practical outcomes. In this context, the panellists discussed how the recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness initiative by the Quad is a step in the right direction.

The experts also cautioned that unless there is a greater degree of technology transfer between the two countries, the full potential of the partnership in areas like joint research and development cannot be tapped.

This also needs to be accompanied by hardware exchanges between the armed forces of the two sides to facilitate greater levels of interoperability.

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With India’s approach to defence preparedness increasingly focusing on greater self-reliance and indigenisation along with technology transfers, the panellists discussed strategies and areas where greater American investments can be sought in ramping up India’s domestic defence manufacturing capacity. 

This becomes important since the U.S. increasingly sees India playing the role of a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region, as was mentioned by Adrian Pratt, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, in his remarks.

The panel acknowledged that the entry of Chinese forces into the Indian Ocean region had altered the strategic calculus. The capacity gaps between the navies in the Indo-Pacific and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are significant, and concerted efforts toward greater naval cooperation will be required to maintain a deterring maritime presence in the region.

The discussion also touched upon other relevant thematic areas – including the need for greater cooperation between India and the U.S. on aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and in the space domain, as well as the threat posed by climate change in the Indo-Pacific region, among others. 

The virtual session saw enthusiastic participation, with over fifty participants joining to hear experts deliberate on these issues. This was the first of a series of such workshops, which have been conceptualised as capacity-building sessions for media professionals so that they can have a more informed view of defence and strategic matters.

With its headquarters in Jaipur, India, CUTS International has regional centres in Accra, Lusaka and Nairobi covering West, Southern and East Africa. Besides them, it has centres in Hanoi, Geneva and Washington DC. In India, it has a regional centre in Kolkata, a rural development centre in Chittorgarh and a liaison office in New Delhi.

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