(This was originally posted in TNN by Rajat Pandit)
NEW DELHI: India and the US are all set to kick off a major combat exercise in Rajasthan next week, in the first such bilateral wargame after the Biden administration took charge in Washington and reiterated India’s role as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific as well as the need to strengthen the “Quad”. Indian officials say the ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise, which will be held at the Mahajan Field Firing ranges from February 8 to 21, will once again underscore the continuing upward trajectory in defence cooperation with the US, which enjoys bipartisan support among the Democrats and Republicans.
The US contingent for Yudh Abhyas will include a brigade headquarters and a battalion group of around 250 soldiers from a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. India will also field an infantry brigade headquarters and a battalion group from the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry for the exercise.
“The aim is to further enhance interoperability in counter-terrorist operations in a semi-urban, semi-desert terrain, along with attack helicopters and infantry combat vehicles,” said an officer.
Yudh Abhyas, which comes after India conducted the 24thedition of the top-notch `Malabar’ naval exercise with the other Quad countries (US, Japan and Australia) in November, will be followed by the ‘Vajra Prahar’ land combat exercise in March.
The Malabar, of course, sent a strong strategic signal to China amidst the continuing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, with the Quad nations stressing their commitment to “support a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order”. India, incidentally, also deployed a long-range Poseidon-8I maritime patrol aircraft and other personnel for the `Sea Dragon’ anti-submarine warfare exercise with the US, Japan, Australia and Canada from January 14 to 27 in Guam. The aim, interestingly, was to strengthen interoperability among partner nations for “regional contingencies”.
The new US secretary of state Antony J Blinken, secretary of defence Lloyd J Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in their talks with their Indian counterparts and elsewhere last week, have all conveyed their intention to carry forward the Indo-Pacific strategy of the previous Trump administration.
“The Biden administration’s overall policy towards China will, of course, be more nuanced. But defence cooperation between India and the US will continue to be the main driver of the bilateral strategic partnership,” said an official.
India has inked four “foundational military pacts” with the US, with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) being concluded last year. Beginning with the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was inked in 2016, and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.
The US has also bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion just since 2007, with latest ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multirole naval helicopters and six more Apache attack choppers for $3 billion being inked during former President Donald Trump’s visit here in February last year, as was reported by TOI.