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How strong are military ties forged between U.S. and India?

September 18, 2007

Posted by Philippe Khan

Last week, the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Nimitz accompanied other warships in joint naval exercises with India, Japan, Australia and Singapore. That’s not all; soldiers from the U.S. and India started a 20-day-training in the jungles of Mizoram in an attempt to expose the U.S. Special Forces to tactics used by the Indian army in low-intensity conflicts. The Mizoram exercises, codenamed Thunderstrike, primarily aim at teaching soldiers how to deal with the local population in a conflict zone "without compromising its strike power.” 

The Indian government policy towards the U.S. changed thirty-six years ago when the U.S. threatened to move the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the Indian-Pakistan war. It wasn't until the mid-1990s when the Indian and the U.S. military were able to reconcile and move on.

According to the BBC, this unstable relation between the U.S. and India was probably attributed to the fact that India was hugely dependent on the Soviet Union for the supply of the military hardware, which hindered the expansion of the relations between India and the U.S.

Retired Rear Admiral RB Vohra of the Maritime Foundation told the BBC that, as young officers, he and his colleagues never imagined that they would ever interact with American military personnel. He then added that exercises with the Soviet military were about "hardcore equipment", focusing on how to use Russian weapons. 

But that is not so with the U.S. Since 1995 there have been 13 military exercises involving the armies, navies and air forces of India and the U.S. 

U.S.-India military ties are based on a 2005 agreement called the "Agreed Minute of Defence Relations". Under this 10-year-agreement, both countries should have an "enhanced level of co-operation" between their military forces as well as defence industry and technological development. 

A former head of the defence think-tank IDSA, retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar, told the BBC that it would be very hard to ignore the lessons learnt from the world’s “most-hi-tech navy.” 

But former vice chief of army staff Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi believes that the U.S. army can learn a lot from India as well. The Indian army's vast experience in dealing with rebel groups is valued by all countries, he said, adding: "They want to learn from us." 

The Indian army is scheduled to hold more joint operations with Russia in September while its military exercises with China are due to start in October. 

Col Deepak Sharma is supporting the joint military exercises as it will improve India's experience which is limited to the UN's peacemaking operations, which do not involve any offensive/defensive operations. Therefore, Sharma thinks that these joint trainings can benefit India on a wide scale and come very valuable to the wellbeing of the country.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that the U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Timothy Keating recently said it would be in the mutual interest of India and the U.S. to look after the security of the Malacca Strait. The 805 km-strip of sea between Malaysia and Sumatra, where 60% of the world's energy is transported, is currently international water. 

Keating’s comments raised serious concerns in India, not just on the left, where opposition to the U.S. is taken for granted, but also in China about the future path of U.S.-India co-operation.

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