The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government of India is ramping up defense cooperation with the United States, and will restart COPE INDIA, a mock combat exercise between the US and Indian Air Force.
COPE INDIA was first conducted in 2004, and subsequently in 2005, 2006 and 2009, after which it was abandoned.
The exercise had generated some colorful headlines such as ‘Indian Air Force beats the US Air Force’ in 2004.
The move to restart COPE INDIA comes after Indian Air Force jets took part in the US’ ‘RED FLAG Alaska’ exercise for the first time last year.
“In 2017, the United States expects to relaunch our bilateral Air Force exercise, COPE INDIA. The U.S. Air Force is also focused on expanding cooperation with the Indian Air Force on C-130J/C-17 transport aircraft capabilities, flight safety, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and combat search and rescue,” the US Department of Defense said.
The US has also provided India with proposals for F-16 Block 70 and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft, though the Asian country has not confirmed whether it will purchase the aircraft.
“These proposals will help create and maintain jobs in both countries and demonstrate the depth of our commitment to defense cooperation,” US DoD said.
Besides these Air Force-level ties, India and the US are also deepening army and naval ties.
On the army side, the two countries conduct an annual exercises known as Yudh Abhyas, and on the naval side, they conduct the annual MALABAR exercise.
The MALABAR exercise is increasingly focusing on “anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol and reconnaissance, aircraft carrier operations, as well as air defense,” DoD said.
Since Modi came to power, India has also started participating in US Navy’s Rim-of-the-Pacific or RIMPAC exercise, though with only one participating ship.
Besides the above three wings, the Modi government has also increased co-operation with the US on anti-terrorism defense by getting India’s National Security Guards or NSG to train with US Special Forces.
The first such exercise, TARKASH, was held in 2015. The second one was conducted in March 2017. Last year, the two forces also started VAJRA PRAHAR, an exercise focused on small-unit special operations.
The United States also designated India a “Major Defense Partner” in June 2016 with the aim of raising technology sharing with the South Asian country to the same level as that of “our closest allies and partners,” the US Department of Defense said.
The US has traditionally seen India as closer to the Soviet Union or Russia, while counting on Pakistan to be its friend in South Asia.
However, its relationship with Pakistan has faced some strain in recent times due to growing economic and military proximity of Pakistan and China, as well as some reluctance on part of the South Asian country to wind up its ‘unconventional war‘ activities in Afghanistan.
This has been made possible by a shift in India’s economic and political outlook and aspirations from the ‘socialist view’ of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to the pragmatic and non-ideological view of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Moreover, economic ties between US and Indian companies too have scaled new heights in the last 20 years.
Over the past five years, the United States also helped India enter or apply to several international defense groups, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime in June 2016.
It also strongly backed India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and has called on NSG members to support India’s application. It has also supported India’s membership for the Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.
After Modi came to power in 2014, the US has increased focus on the ‘Defense Technology and Trade Initiative’ or DTTI signed with the Manmohan Singh government in 2012.
Instead of waiting for tenders, the DTTI seeks to actively identify opportunities for defense-focused co-development and co-production opportunities. It covers seven areas — aircraft carriers; jet engines; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; chemical-biological protection; naval systems; and air systems.
So far, it has made possible the transfer of radar, gas turbine engine, night-vision, and other technology to India, and facilitated important cooperation on topics such as aircraft carrier design, said the US DoD.
Beginning in mid-2014, the US handed over the DTTI initiative to its Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD (AT&L)).
To further scale up activities, the DoD established the India Rapid Reaction Cell (IRRC) in 2015 – a team of full-time personnel exclusively focused on advancing the work of DTTI.
Meanwhile, India’s growing proximity to the US has caused some consternation at Moscow, its traditional source for military technology and hardware, and created unease at Beijing, which sees the US as threat to its ambition to emerge as a dominant power in the world.
China, Russia and Pakistan as part of an alternate, non-US led military and economic grouping, partly because the US President Donald Trump has faced fierce domestic opposition to his plans to reach out to Russia.