How the United States is strengthening defense ties with India.
BY ASHTON B. CARTER | NOVEMBER 20, 2013
Last year, on an official trip to India, I had the opportunity to visit a manufacturing plant in Hyderabad that is assembling the newest variant of America's long-standing tactical airlifter, the C-130J Super Hercules, as part of a joint venture between the American firm Lockheed Martin and the Indian firm Tata. When I returned to India this fall, I had the chance to meet with an Indian Air Force pilot who had successfully landed an Indian C-130J -- and, just as importantly, taken off again -- in the Himalayas at an altitude well above 16,000 feet. He briefed me on the aircraft's crucial role in bringing relief to flood victims earlier in the year in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.
On the same trip, I discussed with senior Indian defense officials a recently concluded bilateral military exercise undertaken by members of the Indian Army and soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. While training at Fort Bragg, representatives of our two armies jointly conducted scenarios related to a UN peacekeeping mission and practiced skills ranging from humanitarian assistance to air assault operations.
While none of these events garnered much outside attention, they are the product of years of work between the United States and India to overcome a historical legacy of differing approaches to defense, and are a sign of how far our relationship has come. They also typify the kind of below-the-radar, long-term relationship-building that is critical to the Obama administration's strategic shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific region.
To be sure, the rebalance to Asia is mostly a political and economic concept, not a military one. And in the military domain, most outside attention has focused on the Department of Defense's recent presence and posture decisions, and our investments in the new technologies and capabilities that will enable us to continue to underwrite regional peace, stability, and prosperity -- just as we have done for the past 60 years. But while the deepening of U.S.-India defense cooperation may not be as visible as some of our other efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, it is a key example of how the Department of Defense under Secretary Chuck Hagel is executing our role in the rebalance.
President Obama, who recently held his third summit in as many years with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has rightly described Washington's relationship with New Delhi as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century." From the conception of our new strategy, the United States has seen India as integral to a rebalance we're undertaking not just to the Asia-Pacific region, but also within the region, as we complement existing partnerships in Northeast Asia with new bilateral and multilateral collaboration in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.