At INDUS-X Summit, Defence Secretary’s Signaling to China

Reiteration that in a future scenario, there will be deeper sharing of information was a warning to China that such moves where made are not likely to go unnoticed.

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INDUS-X initiative to bolster their strategic technology partnership and defence cooperation.

Speaking at the second edition of INDUS-X Summit on 21st February, 2024 in New Delhi, India’s top defence civil official Defence Secretary Girdhar Armane send some open signals to China emphasizing on a growing India US operational information sharing paradigm in place amongst other issues related posture on the Northern Border and the Indo Pacific Region.

“Today, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in the history of the Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific, with its vast expanse of oceans and strategic waterways, stands as the crossroad of global commerce, geopolitics, and security. In navigating the complex dynamics of this region, India and the United States find themselves as key stakeholders, bound by shared values and common interests,” said Defence Secretary in the Ministry of Defence Press Release.

On the bilateral partnership in the aerospace and defence sectors, Shri Giridhar Aramane said,“Our bilateral relationship is flourishing, with India increasingly turning to the United States for cutting-edge equipment and technology. The United States, in turn, sees India as a key partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy, leveraging India’s growing defence capabilities.”

Shri Giridhar Aramane called upon the India-US industry representatives and other stakeholders present in the Summit to further deepen the strategic bilateral partnership and harness the full potential of the cooperation. “By leveraging our respective strengths and capabilities, India and the United States can play a pivotal role in shaping the geopolitical landscape of the Indo-Pacific, promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the region,” he said.

The Ministry of Defence stated that the pioneering INDUS-X Summit 2024 planned for two-days was designed to foster collective progress for defence industries across borders, particularly to align the technological capabilities for startups and MSMEs, and also to engage in discussions, bilateral dialogues on various pertinent objectives under the realms of INDUS-X and propose relevant outcome & way ahead to take the INDUS-X initiative forward.

An Explosive Q &A Session

While the Ministry of Defence Press Release highlighted the main aspects of Mr Armane’s speech his explosive remarks on China and growing quasi alliance with the US were covered in the Q & A session excerpts of which were provided by the Hindu amongst other media outlets.

“India is giving a face-off to our (northern) neighbour in almost all the fronts we have with them. Wherever there is a mountain pass, we are stationed there to face the eventuality. Wherever there is a road, we have to be ready there. So that way we are there, we are standing against a bully [sic China – ed add in in brackets] in a very determined fashion. And we expect that our friend, the U.S., will be there with us in case we need their support,” Mr. Aramane said in the presence of U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. John Aquilino as per the Hindu.

On the Indo US continued partnership he said, “It’s a must for us, we have to do it whether we can or we can’t, we have to do that. We greatly appreciate the support and the resolve from our friends in supporting us in such an event, basically the information, intelligence and any support by way of equipment will be of great use to us,” Mr. Aramane said.

For the first time a high level Indian defence official has confirmed that US assisted India in the standoff with China in May-June 2020 in Eastern Ladakh with “intelligence, the situation awareness, which the U.S. equipment and the U.S. government could help us with.”

Going further in the maritime domain Armane called for cooperation in the underwater domain. “The Indo-Pacific, especially in the Indian Ocean Region, where we have an emerging threat from an emerging power… it is essential that we have greater collaboration in underwater domain awareness. It’s going to be crucial to ensure that this part of the region will remain safe and secure for trade, commerce and prosperity,” the Defence Secretary stated.

Multiple Messages

The remarks by the Defence Secretary Mr Armane carried multiple messages to China and rest of the World. For the first time India has openly acknowledged deepening strands of strategic partnership with the United States with intimate intelligence sharing on operational fronts related to China. While this was well known the official acknowledgement may have taken some by surprise.

Reiteration that in a future scenario, there will be deeper sharing of information was a warning to China that such moves where made are not likely to go unnoticed.

Post Galwan incident there have been a few attempts by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which have been thwarted by the Indian Army, at least four of which are known publicly. It is likely that the US with its high-quality surveillance coverage across the World and particularly an umbrella to assist partner nations may also have provided information of Chinese build up on such occasions.

On the other hand while not a treaty ally of the United States, India is definitely veering towards the same though this may remain unwritten and would however be restricted to the information sharing and capability building domain for now. Operational gaps has led India to abandon the much cherished strategic autonomy it may appear.

It is thus not surprising that in a press release on February 01, the United States Defence Security Cooperation Agency indicated that the State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of India of MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.99 billion.

Rahul K Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle, MSc, MPhil, MBA is an Indian army military veteran with 30 years active field experience in counter militancy and terrorism operations. He is presently Director of Sasia Security-Risks.com, a South Asian security risk and knowledge management consultancy which specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.

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