The main India-US strategic defence coordination panel has discussed increasing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with “like-minded partners” as security ties between the two countries expand, according to US Defence Department spokesperson Lt Col Anton Semelroth.
Friday’s meeting of the US-India Defence Policy Group (DPG) co-chaired by India’s Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Colin Kahl, the US Under Secretary for Defence Policy, “discussed opportunities for enhanced cooperation with like-minded partners to sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific”, Semelroth said.
Although the leaders of the Quad — the group of India, the US, Japan and Australia — have so far ruled out a defence pact component to their cooperation mainly because of New Delhi’s wariness, Indian and US leaders have spoken of expanding security cooperation in the region.
The only joint action of the Quad members has been the annual Malabar naval exercises, which reincluded Australia last year.
The latest exercise took place in August.
“The (DPG) Dialogue advanced an ambitious set of bilateral priorities, including information-sharing, high-end maritime cooperation, logistics, and defence trade, reflective of the flourishing defence ties between the US and India,” Semelroth said in a readout issued in Washington of the 16th meeting of the group.
“The leaders reinforced their commitment to deepening joint cooperation and interoperability between the US and Indian militaries to work more seamlessly together, including strengthening cooperation in new defence domains, such as space and cyber,” he added.
The meeting of the defence officials was the latest in a series of high-level meetings between the two countries as they draw closer in the face of an aggressive posture by China in the region.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in New Delhi on Wednesday for discussions that included growing security relations.
Last month in Washington, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Joe Biden, who “reaffirmed the strength of the defense relationship between the US and India and the unwavering commitment to India as a Major Defense Partner”, according to the White House.
Two areas that figured in the DPG meeting — expanding defence cooperation with regional partners and information sharing — were emphasised by Biden during the meeting with Modi.
That was followed by a summit of the Quad which Modi and Biden held with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga, who was at the time Japan’s Prime Minister.
Before that in September, India’s Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat met with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and discussed expanding multilateral cooperation with regional partners and enabling the militaries of the two countries to work together in operations.
Austin was the first cabinet-level official to visit India when he met with Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The DPG meeting also “laid the groundwork” for the 2+2 dialogue of Jaishankar and Singh with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Austin to be held later this year, Semelroth said.
Looking to strengthen defence against China’s aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific, the US and Australia set up a security pact with the UK called ‘AUKUS’ last month.