Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US this month will set new benchmarks for bilateral ties and big announcements are likely to be made on defence industrial cooperation and boosting India's indigenous military base, the Pentagon has said.
Prime Minister Modi will embark on his first state visit to the US at the invitation of President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden this month. During his four-day visit starting on June 21, the US president and the First Lady will host Modi for a state dinner on June 22.
“When Prime Minister Modi comes here to Washington for a State Visit later in the month, I think it will be a historic visit setting new benchmarks for the relationship,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said during a panel discussion at the Center for New American Security on Thursday.
“I think it (the visit) will be looked back upon similar to how the Japan two plus two earlier this year was a pivotal moment in the relationship. People will be looking back on this visit by Prime Minister Modi as a real springboard for the US-India relationship,” he said.
Ratner said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited India recently to advance a number of bilateral issues and prepare the ground for the prime minister's visit to Washington by finalising particular agreements and initiatives that the two countries are working on.
“Among the priorities are clear strategic alignment around the question of co-development and co-production between the United States and India on the defence side. This is a priority for Prime Minister Modi to strengthen India's indigenous defence industrial base, as well as advancing the military modernisation,” he said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Indian Indian counterpart Ajit Doval here in January launched the initiative for critical and emerging technology (iCET) to try to bolster technology cooperation between the US and India and there is a very strong defence component of that that the two countries are looking to advance.
“I know there have been efforts at this in the past. Sometimes there's skepticism around, is it going to be real this time? And my answer is, I think, all signs are pointing toward yes, it's going to be real and we're going to have some really big, historic, exciting announcements out of the prime minister's visit in terms of particular projects around defence industrial cooperation,” Ratner said.
“We are also enhancing our operational coordination in a number of different places. A lot of focus on the Indian Ocean, a lot of focus on the undersea domain, as well as new domains, space and cyber and new efforts around information sharing,” he said.
“If you look at the development of the US-India relationship, it's really unbelievable how far the relationship has moved over the last couple of decades. That’s true now more than ever,” he said.
Ratner said the two countries are seeing increasing strategic alignment.
“From our perspective, from India's perspective, we do share a vision again for a free and open Indo-Pacific. A strong US-India partnership is a critical ingredient to realising that vision. That's what both sides have understood that from India's perspective and from the US perspective, that a closer partnership is going to be essential to the manifestation of that vision,” he said.
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 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.
“One of the major thrusts of the bilateral defence relationship and one of the things we were talking about, while we were in Delhi, is this ongoing US effort to support India's military modernisation," Ratner said.
"The integration of our defence industrial base is more co-production, co-development, and I think that is based upon the belief that a stronger India that can defend its own interest and its sovereignty is good for the United States,” he said.