Pentagon building, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington D.C.

Voicing concern over the growing gap between the overarching goals of the Indo-U.S. defense ties, a powerful Senate panel has asked the Pentagon to work closely with India in the cyber and space operating domains at appropriate strategic, operational and tactical levels, writes Lalit K. Jha.

“As a rising economic power and key security partner, it is the committee’s judgement that India deserves a seat at the table as the U.S. works with our other key allies and partners to increase resiliency, strengthen deterrence and secure superiority in both operating domains,” the Senate armed services committee said in a report to the Senate as it passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2018.

“Looking ahead to the future of the U.S.’ Major Defense Partnership with India, the committee encourages the Department to work closely with India in the cyber and space operating domains at appropriate strategic, operational and tactical levels,” said the Senate armed services committee in its voluminous report running into more than 600 pages.

Pleased to see progress in the U.S.-India defense partnership, it said, adding that the positive adjustment of U.S. export controls for defense articles sold to India is in accordance with National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that required an assessment regarding such an adjustment.

Furthermore, the U.S. and India have continued to refine their annual Malabar naval exercise, which has benefited from the recent inclusion of Japan.

The Malabar exercise concluded in the Bay of Bengal on July 7. The committee supports the exercise’s consistent focus on maritime patrol, reconnaissance scenarios, and anti- submarine warfare operations, the report said.

Chaired by Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee plays a key role in shaping the defense and national security policy of the U.S.

However, the committee said it is concerned by a growing gap between the overarching goals of the bilateral defense relationship and the Department’s implementation of these objectives.

The Joint Strategic Vision (JSV) agreed to by the U.S. and India in 2015 codified a common commitment to maritime awareness and freedom of navigation as overarching defense missions, it said.

The key body in the Department of Defense implementing and coordinating defense cooperation with India is the 2012 Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

Its six “pathfinder” initiatives are (1) development of a chemical-biological protective ensemble for troops; (2) development of mobile electric hybrid power stations; (3) a next generation small unmanned aircraft; (4) a roll-on/roll- off intelligence and surveillance module for transport aircraft; (5) digital helmet-mounted displays; and (6) the joint biological tactical detection system.

While the Committee supports all of these initiatives, it is concerned that several of these projects lack focus and are underdeveloped and therefore urges the Department to prioritize elements of the DTTI that most closely align with the JSV, the report said.

The report pulled up the Pentagon for not appointing the point person for India in the Department of Defense to coordinate and expedite bilateral defense cooperation.

Appointing such an individual would bring a refined approach to prioritizing defense cooperation and aligning it with missions like maritime awareness and anti-submarine warfare and eventually joint naval patrol of the Indian Ocean, the report said.

Aware that key defense cooperation agreements—Communications Capability and Security Agreement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence—have not been completed, the report said the Department of Defense has approached negotiation of these agreements with consistency and good faith, as evidenced in the successful signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with India earlier this year.

The report commended both the Department and the Ministry of Defense for this progress, and hoped to see similar agreement with the two outstanding documents as well.