The USD 858 billion defence bill passed by the US Senate seeks to strengthen defence ties with India, including supporting efforts to reduce India’s reliance on Russian-built military equipment and funds billions of dollars to take measures to address the challenges posed to America’s national security by China.
The National Defence Authorisation Act, known as the NDAA, was approved by the Senate with 83-11 votes on Thursday. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives with 350-80 votes on December 8.
Now it heads to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign it into law.
As passed by the House and the Senate, the NDAA seeks to strengthen US-India relations by directing the Departments of Defence and State to pursue greater engagement and expanded cooperation with India related to emerging technology, joint Research and development, defence and cyber capabilities, and other opportunities for collaboration – including for reducing India’s reliance on Russian-built defence equipment.
These provisions support an effort by Senator Mark Warner, co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, to highlight the importance of America’s defence partnership with India, and to support accelerated efforts by India to diversify defence systems.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed said that the NDAA strengthens key alliances and partnerships to bolster America's security.
“This year’s NDAA includes targeted investments, needed reforms, and enhanced oversight. It addresses a broad range of pressing issues, from the strategic competition with China and Russia, to disruptive technologies like hypersonic, AI, and quantum computing, to modernising our ships, aircraft, and other equipment,” he said.
According to Section 1260 of the NDAA, among the new areas of expanded defence cooperation with India need to include intelligence collection capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, depot-level maintenance, fifth-generation wireless communication, open Radio Access Network technologies, defensive cyber capabilities, cold-weather capabilities and critical and emerging technologies.
Within 180 days of the passage of the bill, the NDAA urged the Defence Secretary to provide a report to Congress on the discussion of opportunities and challenges related to reducing India’s reliance on Russian-built weapons and defence systems.
In October 2018, India signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems to ramp up its air defence, despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.
The US has repeatedly said it discourages India to rely on Russia for its defence needs.
Senator Jim Risch, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the passage of the FY2023 NDAA brings one step closer to providing Taiwan with the security authorities and collaborative US-Taiwan defence relationship it needs to effectively deter, and if necessary, defeat, Chinese aggression.
The bill funds billions of dollars to take measures to address the challenges posed to America’s national security by China.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the NDAA steps up US investments in capabilities that are especially crucial to operations in the Indo-Pacific, from space assets to naval mines.
The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region, comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.
The US, India and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the resource-rich region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.
“It re-prioritises countering China’s nuclear breakout by curbing the Biden administration’s naive efforts to retire critical elements of our nuclear arsenal,” McConnell said.
“It tightens security on our cutting-edge research and bolsters sea-launch strategic deterrent capabilities,” he added.
McConnell said this strong bipartisan bill puts new weight behind America’s long-term commitments to stand with both vulnerable countries in China’s orbit and vulnerable people within its own borders.
“It will authorise a new Joint Force Headquarters right there in the region, and make sure that US military installations are not commercial destinations for goods that have been produced with Uyghur slave labour in the Xinjiang province,” he said.
“This bill will also help stiffen the spine of the liberal entertainment industry that apparently lacks the courage to cross Beijing without clearer incentives,” McConnell said.
“This year’s NDAA will prohibit the use of US military assets — like ships, or bases — in movies where the producers then turn around and allow Chinese censors to have final sign-off. If Hollywood wants to trample on American principles of free expression in order to please the Communist Party of China (CCP), they won’t get to use our own Armed Forces as props in the process,” he said.
“Of course, stepping up our competition with China and limiting the risks to America from the CCP does not mean walking away from the world stage more broadly. Quite the contrary. Checking the CCP will take a coordinated effort with even stronger, deeper ties between the United States and our like-minded friends and partners,” McConnell said.
China, he alleged, is actively trying to undercut American interests and partnerships everywhere from Asia itself, to the Middle East, to Africa, and beyond.
“This NDAA will strengthen our hand. It prioritises crucial partnerships in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.