What is mean by India being the Major Defence Partner of the US?

The India-US relationship is growing to new and higher levels and has reached defence partnership in the last couple of years. Latest development is that India has become the major defence partner of the US- a status that will give India access to military technology of the US.

The US have major defence treaties with NATO countries, Australia and New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea. According to the US defence sources, this category of ‘Major Defence Partner’ was specifically created for India.

The major defence partner status simply means that for defence related trade and technology transfer, the country would now be treated at par with America’s closest allies. The status implies export hurdle of high tech US military hardware and technology to India is removed. India can now get access to 99% of the US defence technologies.

In June, a White House statement has hailed the ascending relationship between the two major democracies under the Press Release ‘The United States and India: Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century’. The press release elaborates two dimensions of the Major Defence Partner status:

  • The United States will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners. India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.
  • In support of India’s Make in India initiative, and to support the development of robust defense industries and their integration into the global supply chain, the United States will continue to facilitate the export of goods and technologies, consistent with U.S. law, for projects, programs and joint ventures in support of official U.S.-India defense cooperation.   

An official of the Obama administration has explained the development to PTI “India [now] enjoys access to [defence] technologies that is on a par with our treaty allies. That is a very unique status. India is the only other country that enjoys that status outside our formal treaty allies,” According to a report in ‘the Hindu’ that quotes the noted defence observer Richard M Rossow, “It certainly captures what is emerging as a unique relationship, exhibited by programs such as the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative [DTTI] and the establishment of a dedicated ‘India Rapid Reaction Cell’ inside the Pentagon. Neither exists for a country other than India.”

The DTTI seeks to deepen defense cooperation between India and the United States by elevating dialogue on cooperative research and development and defense trade to the highest levels of government

But in June 8, the US Senate has failed to pass some amendments related to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA-17) which if passed would have recognized India as a global strategic and defence partner. Officials in New Delhi says that the failure is not serious in hurting the new status.

Another set of observes view that new status may bring India closer to the privilege enjoyed by countries like UK and Israel in defence matters.