HomeTrendingDefence becomes centerpiece of India, US ties as Chinese menace grows bigger

Defence becomes centerpiece of India, US ties as Chinese menace grows bigger

In what is expected to be a game-changer in the defence industry, GE’s F-414 jet engines would be jointly produced in India. This was announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US in June.

This agreement between India and the United States (US) demonstrates the growing importance of the defence sector in the two countries’ bilateral relations, which is motivated in part by shared worries about a belligerent China.

During this tour, India also ordered MQ-9 armed drones from General Atomic, greatly enhancing its ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities. They will be put together in India.

The two sides also reached agreements to create logistical, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for planes and boats in India, as well as Master Ship Repair Agreements that would permit forward deployed US military ships to dock in India for repairs.

A joint statement released by the two sides after Prime Minister Modi’s meetings with President Joe Biden contained many new initiatives — around 25 — across an entire range of sectors including the opening of new US consulates in India and stateside H-1B renewals (Indians are the largest beneficiaries of the program), but the F-414 joint production clearly stole the show.

India has been trying to develop a jet engine for its fighter jets for decades but unable to make much headway, it has been using GE’s F404 for its Tejas fighters. F414 will power the next generation of Tejas fighters.

Under the MoU signed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and GE, F414 engines will be jointly produced in India, which would entail the most significant transfer of US military technology to India, a remarkable capstone for a defense relationship that did not exist 20 years ago.

India, which is the world’s largest importer of weapons, bought no defence equipment from the United States (US) till 20 years ago. By 2020, it had bought $20 billion worth of American equipment, accounting for 10 per cent of its arms imports; the total is now nearing $25 billion.

According to a list compiled by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan body that provides policy research to US lawmakers, India’s purchases over the years span all three platforms, but majorly air and sea:


Air defence:

  • 28 AH-64 Apache combat helicopters (22 delivered)
  • 1,354+ AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles
  • 245 Stinger portable surface-to-air missiles
  • 12 APG-78 Longbow combat helicopter radars
  • 6 spare helicopter turboshafts
  • 15 CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters
  • 13 C-130 Hercules transport aircraft (12 delivered)
  • 11 C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft
  • 2 MQ-9A Reaper UAVs (two-year lease in 2020)
  • 512 CBU-97 guided bombs
  • 234 aircraft turboprops (228 delivered)
  • 147 aircraft turbofans (48 delivered)


Dominance at sea

  • 1 Austin-class amphibious transport dock
  • 24 MH-60R Seahawk ASW helicopters (3 delivered)
  • 12 P-8 Poseidon patrol and ASW aircraft
  • 48 Mk-54 ASW torpedoes (32 delivered)
  • 6 S-61 Sea King naval transport helicopters
  • 53 Harpoon anti-ship missiles
  • 1 Harpoon Joint Common Test Set (accepted)
  • 24 naval gas turbines (6 delivered)


Land forces

  • 12 Firefinder counterbattery radars
  • 145 M-777 towed 155mm howitzers (41 delivered)
  • 1,200+ M-982 Excalibur guided artillery shells
  • 72,400+ SIG Sauer SIG716 assault rifles


India used to purchase the majority of its defence hardware from the former Soviet Union and Russia. However, Iran has been steadily reducing its dependency on Russia for defence, and by 2022, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that it had decreased to 45%. With 29% of the market, France was India’s second-largest arms supplier, and the US came in third with 11%.

Washington has tried to promote arms sales to India in recent years by relaxing regulations. It gave India the status of “Major Defence Partner” in 2016 and allowed for technology sharing on par with that of the closest US allies and partners.

For the license-free import of critical dual use technology, the US granted India the designation of STA 1 (Strategic Trade Authorization 1) in 2018, putting it on level with NATO members and five of the US’s closest treaty allies, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Israel.

India, on the other hand, overcame years of reluctance to sign the four Foundational/Enabling Agreements that the US claims are necessary for interoperability between its military and that of the signatory country. These agreements are the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA), Logistic Support Agreement (LSA), Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

A bill that was introduced in both chambers of the US Congress last month aims to change the Arms Export Control Act to speed up the sale of weapons to India by giving it the same privileges as the NATO Plus Five nations of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Israel without mentioning them by name.

The two nations have also increased communication and interaction between their military. India and the US now undertake the most joint military drills. Specifically, Tiger Triumph (tri-service), Cope India (air force), Yudh Abhyas (army), and Vajra Prahar (army special forces). Furthermore, in addition to the US, there are numerous other countries, including Malabar (Navy), Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC, Navy), Milan (Navy), Cutlass Express (Navy), La Perouse (Navy), Sea Dragon (Navy), Pitch Black (Air Force), and Red Flag (Air Force).

If defence cooperation is the engine powering this bilateral relationship, then shared worries about China serve as its gasoline.

Neither the 2,600-word fact sheet released by the White House to summarise the key points of the conversations nor the 6,500-word joint statement India and the US released following PM Modi’s meetings with Joe Biden had a single direct mention of the People’s Republic of China.

Para 29 of the joint statement, however, left no doubt about about where the priorities lay for the two sides: “a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous India-Pacific region with respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and international law,” it emphasised.

“Both leaders expressed concern over coercive actions and rising tensions, and strongly oppose destabilizing or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force,” the para went on to say, referring, without naming names and events, China’s pursuit of maritime and territorial claims in the region that hat led to tensions and conflicts with several countries including India, Japan, Philippines and Indonesia.

“Both sides emphasised the importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, in addressing challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas,” the statement said further, referring to China’s rejection of a 2016 ruling of the panel.

China cast a shadow on PM Modi’s visit to the US.

”Clearly, the challenges presented by the PRC to both our nations were on the agenda yesterday,” White House national security council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters a day after Modi-Biden meetings.

He refuted, however, claims that PM Modi’s visit was meant to use India as a counterweight to China. But it’s no secret that the threat from China is bringing India and the US closer together than anything else.

India is now more closely aligned with Australia and Japan as QUAD members, in addition to the United States. India gladly took part in the organization’s resurrection even though it was revived in 2017 after collapsing in 2008 due to border conflicts with Chinese forces, which abruptly dashed New Delhi’s dreams of amicable relations with Beijing.

Since then, QUAD has gained momentum, and its leaders recently met for the second time in person at the summit level during the G-7 summit in Hiroshima.

Defence and security issues are not addressed by the QUAD, but they are not only prominent in bilateral relations between the United States (US) and India — they are really driving them — again, in large part due to China.