US-India to hold rare joint-military exercises in 2019

  • US committed to expanding India’s status as Major Defence Partner, says joint statement

  • Envisages to see India as leading global power 

  • Major contentious issues not discussed

NEW DELHI: In a rare instance of military cooperation, the US and India on Thursday announced to conduct ‘tri-services’ joint-military exercises in 2019 in India, the top defence officials of both the countries said in a joint statement.

The announcement was made at the culmination of the meeting between US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Indian Defence Nirmala Sitharaman during a bilateral Summit in which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also held an important meeting.

“We have decided to carry out for the first time a tri-services joint exercise with the United States off the eastern coast of India in 2019,” Sitharaman said.

The joint statement further said, “The ministers reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner (MDP) of the United States and committed to expand the scope of India’s MDP status and take mutually agreed upon steps to strengthen defence ties further and promote better defence and security coordination and cooperation.”

The two countries also signed a “Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement” (COMCASA) that will enable them to exchange sensitive military information quickly and securely.

Both the countries also announced their readiness to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer
defence industry cooperation and collaboration.

The statement acknowledged the unique role of technology in the US-India defence partnership in which the ministers voiced their commitment to continue to encourage and prioritise co-production and co-development projects through the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

The top officials welcomed the conclusion of a Memorandum of Intent between the US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX). Also, they expressed the resolve of wider cooperation in counter-terrorism operations.

Both sides say the unprecedented “2+2” meeting is proof of how far US-India ties have come in recent years, though the officials must tackle several contentious areas where they don’t see eye to eye.

“We fully support India’s rise as a leading global power,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the start of the summit.

The two countries are eager to deepen ties as a way of countering China, whose economic and military might grows stronger by the day.

In an apparent reference to China and its Belt and Road initiative — which floods developing countries with cash for infrastructure projects that sometimes cannot be repaid — Pompeo said the US and India wish to pursue “fundamental rights and liberties and prevent external economic coercion.”

US President Donald Trump’s top two, however, did not discuss thorny issues ranging from an ongoing trade spat to India’s purchase of Russian military gear.

Swaraj said India attaches the “highest priority” to its strategic partnership with the US and sees America as a “partner of choice.”


Despite the wide-scale cooperation between both the countries, the major conflicting issues were not brought to the table.

India is finalising a deal with Moscow to buy new systems including its S-400 long-range, surface-to-air missiles despite serious reservations expressed by the US.

If the S-400 deal is finalised, India has signalled it will ask Washington for a special waiver from sanctions, though a US official last week said there is no guarantee it would do so.

In May, Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and said other countries, including India, must stop buying oil from Tehran before November 4 or face US sanctions.

India, however, is highly reliant on Iranian crude imports.

India has a $25 billion trade surplus with the United States, and to reduce that the Trump administration is reportedly pressing India to take more US imports.