By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 18, 2019) -- 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."
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 Mike 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.
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 co-produce and co-develop 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.
"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."