News   Partnerships

World's Two Largest Democracies Share Interest in Free Indo-Pacific Region

Dec. 18, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

The United States and India, the world's two largest democracies, share mutual interests in many areas, including defense, the U.S. defense secretary said.

"Our defense relationship is strong, and since the establishment of the 2+2 ministerial last year, it continues to improve," Dr. Mark T. Esper said during a news conference today after the second U.S.-India 2+2 ministerial conference at the State Department in Washington. "Our discussions during this year's ministerial reinforce the strategic interests shared by our two countries and helped us build upon the gains from last year. As democracies, the U.S. and India have an abiding interest in advancing a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region."

Two men shake hands.
Pentagon Handshake
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper hosts a meeting with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh of India at the Pentagon, Dec. 18, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee, DOD
VIRIN: 191218-D-WA993-1764

Esper spent much of the day meeting with officials from India, including Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The three met at the Pentagon in the morning and later moved to the State Department for meetings with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.

The defense secretary said the United States and India are taking steps to strengthen their maritime partnership and to expand military-to-military cooperation, including the two nations' ground forces, air forces and special operators.

Esper noted that the two nations launched a new annual exercise called Tiger Triumph. Its first iteration was the first time the U.S. military participated in a military exercise with all three of India's military services.

A uniformed service member points at military equipment while another uniformed service member watches.
Germantown Tour
Navy Lt. j.g. Julian Turner gives Indian Navy sailors a tour of the dock landing ship USS Germantown during the Tiger Triumph exercise, at Visakhapatnam, India, Nov. 16, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tiara Monroe
VIRIN: 191116-N-QD718-1056C
Service members walk across sand and carry rifles.  In the background is a large hovercraft military vehicle.
Kakinada Arrival
Marines disembark a Navy air-cushion landing craft in Kakinada, India, on Nov. 19, 2019, during the military exercise Tiger Triumph.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Armando Elizalde
VIRIN: 191119-M-TP104-1123

The exercise will enhance tri-service coordination and allow the exchange of knowledge and expertise, the secretary said. "Our forces successfully completed the first exercise under this initiative last month," he added, "and we look forward to the next one in 2020."

Also of importance, Esper said, is continued growth between the United States and India on defense trade and technology. He said the two nations finalized three agreements under the U.S.-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI, which he said will enhance the ability of both nations to coproduce and codevelop critical military technologies.

Esper said defense trade between the two nations now stands at about $18 billion annually. But the secretary said that trade is not just about the selling of equipment.

A handful of military tanks are lined up on the sand.
Departure Prep
Marines and Indian soldiers in military tanks prepare to depart Kakinada, India, at the conclusion of exercise Tiger Triumph, Nov. 21, 2019.
Photo By: Marine Corps 1st Lt. Tori Sharpe
VIRIN: 191121-M-QK616-1003

"It gets to the improved interoperability between our two countries, our two militaries," he said, as well as a better understanding and a way to work and fight better together if called upon to do so. Deepening and broadening that effort was key to today's discussions, the secretary said.

Esper acknowledged that much work remains to continue building the U.S.-India defense relationship, but he expressed confidence that the defense relationship will grow stronger "as we work together to defend the international rules-based order and advance our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific."