India has decided to step up defence cooperation with the US Central Command in Florida, as well as US Commands in the Indo-Pacific and Africa. Rajnath Singh made the announcement after meeting with the US Secretary of Defense General (Retd.) Lloyd James Austin III, who characterized the relationship as a "central pillar" of American Indo-Pacific policy.
In a joint press meeting, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, "We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, and Africa Command. Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realize their full potential for mutual benefit."
Rajnath further went on to add that the two sides discussed "military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support".
Lloyd James Austin paid tribute to the National war memorial
Before meeting Rajnath the visiting Secretary of Defense paid his respects and laid a wreath at the National War Memorial. Mr. Austin's visit is critical because it comes as the US prepares to send a message about India's plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system in the following months. Under a law known as CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), the move could result in US sanctions.
Mr. Austin said the India-US defense partnership will "grow" in the coming years, a clear reference to Beijing's expanding military activities in the South China Sea region. He added, "The relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. PM Modi has stated that India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law. This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific."
The trip of the US secretary Defence has come days after Quad leader held a formal meeting of the head of its states. Earlier this month, PM Modi, President Joe Biden of the United States, Japanese Premier Yoshihide Suga, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a virtual conference discussing their partnership.