2+2 Ministerial Dialogue: India, US to Intensify Multifaceted Defence Partnership

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in a pivotal meeting on November 10, 2023,  engaged in bilateral talks in New Delhi and discussed an array of defence and strategic issues. The primary focus of the meeting was to enhance defence industrial cooperation between India and the United States. Both ministers emphasised the importance of bringing together defence industries from both sides to collaboratively co-develop and co-produce advanced defence systems. This underscores a shared commitment to bolstering their strategic partnership in the realm of defence.

Reflecting the depth of the India-US bilateral relationship, during the meeting, the two ministers delved into comprehensive discussions, covering a wide range of strategic and defence issues. The bilateral relationship has seen a growing convergence of strategic interests and enhanced cooperation in defence, security, and intelligence matters.

One of the key outcomes of the dialogue was the exploration of ways to advance defence technology cooperation. The ministers discussed joint research initiatives in critical areas, highlighting a commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements in the defence sector. This collaborative approach aligns with the spirit of innovation and progress that both nations bring to the table.

The progress of the India-US Defence Industrial Ecosystem, known as INDUS-X, took centre stage during the discussions. Launched in June, INDUS-X aims to expand the strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions of India and the US. Reviewing its progress underscores the commitment of both nations to fostering a robust and sustainable defence ecosystem.

Secretary Austin welcomed India’s decision to elevate its membership to full status within the Combined Maritime Forces, a multilateral construct headquartered in Bahrain. This move not only signifies India’s increasing role in multilateral initiatives but also reflects a shared commitment to maritime security in the region. A symbolic gesture during the meeting involved Singh handing over items recovered in Assam to Secretary Austin. These artefacts, including parts of a parachute, uniform, and airplane from the World War II era, serve as a poignant reminder of the historical ties and collaborative efforts between the two nations.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated the importance of defence as a pillar of the bilateral relationship and emphasised that the partnership between India and the US is critical for ensuring a “free, open, and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region.” This sentiment underscores the shared commitment to upholding regional stability and security.

Expressing optimism about the future collaboration with the US across various domains of capability, the defence minister in his address stressed the need to focus on important and long-term issues, setting the stage for continued cooperation, despite emerging geopolitical challenges.

Secretary Austin echoed these sentiments, highlighting that, amid urgent global challenges, the exchange of views between the “world’s two largest democracies” is more crucial than ever. He emphasised the expansion of the partnership into new domains such as clean energy, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors, showcasing the dynamic nature of the collaboration.

The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, not only solidified existing defence ties but also laid out an agenda for future joint work. Singh and Austin affirmed their commitment to building on the substantial gains made in the past year, integrating industrial bases, strengthening interoperability, and sharing cutting-edge technology.

In the joint communique concluding the India-US Ministerial dialogue, both nations affirmed their unwavering dedication to intensify their multifaceted defence partnership. This commitment is poised to evolve through expansive dialogues, intricate military exercises, and the swift advancement of joint initiatives outlined in the June 2023 Roadmap for India-US Defence Industrial Cooperation. The ministers underscored their contentment with the progress in Maritime Domain Awareness cooperation, emphasizing the pursuit of stronger service-to-service ties and technology sharing to tackle diverse maritime challenges, notably in the undersea domain.

The ministers reiterating the significance of the Roadmap for Defence Industrial Cooperation, positioned it as a driving force for fortifying India’s capabilities, fostering indigenous defence production, promoting technology-sharing, and bolstering supply chain resilience. They lauded the commencement of negotiations between General Electric (GE) Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for a commercial agreement to manufacture GE F-414 jet engines in India, highlighting such collaborations as integral to the enduring foundation of the defence partnership.

Anticipating future advancements, the ministers acknowledged progress in the co-production and co-development of defence systems, expressing mutual interest in collaborating on ground mobility systems to bring the defence sectors of both nations closer while augmenting Indian capabilities. They welcomed proposals from Indian and US companies aligned with the established priority areas in the Roadmap. Mutual commitment to bolster investment in India’s burgeoning maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) sector, encompassing aircraft maintenance and mid-voyage repair of US naval vessels, was emphasised. The US industry’s commitment to enhancing India’s MRO capabilities, including aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles repair, garnered appreciation.

Aligning with Prime Minister Modi and President Biden’s commitments, both sides pledged to address export control issues in tandem with expanding defence industrial cooperation. The upcoming discussions within the Strategic Trade Dialogue and its affiliated working groups are expected to explore export control and technology transfers. The impending finalisation of a Security of Supply Arrangement (SOSA), a pivotal facet of the Roadmap, is poised to seamlessly integrate the defence industrial ecosystems of both nations, fortifying supply chain resilience.