New Delhi: A strong defence relationship has been one of the big highlights of the deep strategic bond that India and the US have developed, but how strong this is was underlined Monday when it was revealed that the Indian defence attaché team posted at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC has been given the rare privilege of “unescorted access” to the Pentagon.
“As of today, the Indian attaché team now has unescorted access into the Pentagon which is commensurate with our close relationship with India’s status as a major defense partner. This is aligned with the trust and cooperation we share,” said Frank Kendall, Secretary of the US Air Force, responsible for organising, training and equipping the US Air and Space Forces.
“And if you don’t think that unescorted access to the Pentagon is a big deal, I can’t get into the Pentagon without an escort,” he quipped.
Kendall was speaking at an event organised by the Indian Embassy, hosted by India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu.
The event, marking the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence, saw unprecedented attendance by leading members of the Joe Biden administration’s cabinet. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai was also in attendance, apart from other senior US officials.
The Pentagon, is a five-sided building located in Arlington, Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, that houses the US Department of Defense, including the tri-services. It is a high-sensitive area where access is prohibited even to American citizens.
Kendall has worked closely with India under the previous Barack Obama administration and was instrumental in the US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) established in 2012 and in strengthening the bilateral ties in the area of national security.
“India is a country with whom we do more joint exercises than any other country, have a long and close relationship and we have been able to build it up and strengthen [it] over the years. As we work together for integrated deterrents for the region and around the world, I want to thank you for your partnership and all that India has done for our shared values and shared interest in the world,” he added.
Kendall also highlighted that the US-India DTTI has seen exponential growth in the past few years under which technology transfer has been going on as far as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are concerned.
According to Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst at the California-based think tank RAND Corporation, “The move [unescorted access] clearly shows the growing trust the US has in India, particularly as the two like-minded democratic states continue to bolster their partnership to face down the geostrategic challenges posed by China.”
‘From the seas to cyberspace’
India and the US held their first ever ‘2+2 Ministerial Dialogue’ under the Biden government in April this year and New Delhi and Washington vowed to establish a seamless working relationship between both the militaries across all domains from the ‘seas to cyberspace’.
In October this year, the Indian and US militaries will be conducting their annual joint drill ‘Yudh Abhyas’ (war practice) near the Line of Actual Control — the undefined border between India and China — at 10,000 feet in Auli, Uttarakhand.
In June, during his visit to India, US Army’s Pacific Commanding General Charles Flynn had called the Chinese military build-up near the LAC “alarming”. India and China have locked horns in a major military standoff in eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020.
A US Department of Defence spokesperson told the CNN that the joint exercise is “one of the most important elements of our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
“One important element of this broader effort includes exercises and training events, and Yudh Abhyas is one such annual bilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and improve our respective capacities to address a range of regional security challenges,” the spokesperson said.
Apart from ‘Yudh Abhyas’, India and the US also carry out a range of military exercises, like they have expanded and upgraded a range of military exercises, Malabar (navy), Red Flag and Cope India (Air Force), Tarkash and Vajra Prahar (special forces) and, more recently, they carried out the ‘Tiger Triumph’ exercise (tri-service).
The US accorded India the designation of a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016, following which, in 2018, it was granted the status of ‘Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier 1’, permitting seamless access to high-end and sensitive US military and dual-use technologies.
The two nations have already signed key defence American foundational pacts — Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) — to deepen defence and strategic ties.
Apart from this, both sides have also concluded the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) to the India-US General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) that has eased transfer of high-level technology from the US to India and the safeguarding of classified military information.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)