India and the US focused on expanding their military engagement during a meeting today between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd Austin, a joint statement said today. The talks included wide-ranging defence cooperation, information-sharing in emerging areas, and mutual logistical support, the statement said.
"We focused on expanding military-to-military engagement..." Mr Singh said reading out the statement, and expressing happiness over the "comprehensive and fruitful talks" with Secretary Austin and his delegation. "We're determined to realise the full potential of comprehensive global strategic partnership," he said adding that he had invited the US defence industry to take advantage of India's liberalised FDI policies in the sector.
On his part, Mr Austin began by offering condolences over the death of the Indian Air Force's Group Captain Ashish Gupta earlier this week. He died after his plane, a Mig-21 Bison, crashed near Gwalior during a combat training mission. "His death reminds us of the risks our brave service men and women take each day to defend our democracies, our people, and our way of life," Mr Austin said.
He said he had conveyed to Mr Singh the Biden-Harris administration's message of the US's strong commitment to "our allies and partners".
"We discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership...a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration...through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defence trade," his statement said.
India is the third destination in Mr Austin's three-nation tour, the first since the Joe Biden administration took charge earlier this year. It is seen as a reflection of the regime's strong commitment to its relations with allies and partners in the region. The US Defence Secretary called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval hours after his arrival in Delhi on Friday.
Today's joint statement comes days after Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked Ms Austin to raise concerns over democracy in India during his talks with officials here.
In a letter to Mr Austin, Senator Menendez has pointed out that while the US-India partnership is "critical to meet the challenges of the 21st Century", the partnership "must rest on adherence to democratic values". The Indian government, he added, "has been trending away from those values".
The Indian Defence Minister and the US Secretary of Defence, meanwhile, reviewed many bilateral and multilateral exercises today, agreeing on increased cooperation between the Indian military, the US Indo-Pacific, Central, and Africa Commands. The joint statement said that the talks focused on steps to implement bilateral defence pacts such as Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).
BECA will provide India real-time access to American geospatial intelligence. LEMOA is an India-specific version of a deal the US has with several countries close to it in military terms. COMCASA allows India to procure equipment for encrypted communications for US-made weapons systems. Together, the three are the foundational agreements the US signs with other countries close to it.