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Committed to ensuring US-India partnership supports efforts of allies in Indo-Pacific: US Defence Secy

WASHINGTON (PTI): US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has told lawmakers that by bolstering the Indian military's capabilities, the two nations can work together to uphold a more stable balance of power across the wider Indo-Pacific region.

He also told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing this week on the annual budget of the Department of Defence that the militaries of the US and India are accelerating operational activities to boost maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

"By bolstering the Indian military's capabilities, we can work together to uphold a more stable balance of power across the wider Indo-Pacific," Austin said and added that "with this budget request, we are beginning a new chapter in US-India relations under our Major Defence Partnership".

The Defence Secretary said, "Our militaries are accelerating joint exercises, information-sharing and other operational activities to boost maritime security in the Indian Ocean."

"We are committed to ensuring that the growing US-India partnership supports the efforts of our broader network of allies and partners, especially the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States," Austin said.

At a separate Congressional hearing on the Indo-Pacific, the Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John C Aquilino, told lawmakers that a strong US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific, amidst China's assertive moves in the region.

In 2023, the US and India launched INDUS-X and completed a roadmap for US-India Defence Industrial Cooperation to enhance bilateral defence industrial cooperation and innovation, he said. The proposed deal between GE Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for domestic Indian production of the F-414 jet engines exemplifies this approach.

"The US and India are seeking unprecedented levels of interoperability by expanding cooperation in the air domain through the participation of US B-1B bombers in India's biennial air show Aero India and bilateral air exercise COPE India," Aquilino said.

He said that, additionally, in the land domain, "we conducted the largest-ever bilateral joint amphibious exercise with India, Tiger Triumph, improving our cooperation on maritime domain awareness and strengthening service-to-service ties".

"USINDOPACOM (or the United States Indo-Pacific Command) seeks to deepen cooperation under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) to enable more regular and flexible engagements in the Indian Ocean region, including US ship repair in Indian shipyards," he said.

Two new Master Ship Repair Agreements were signed in 2023, and three US Navy vessels have recently received maintenance and repair in Indian shipyards, the US admiral said.

Aquilino also told lawmakers that in 2021, amid its long-running border dispute with India, China passed a land border law "which asserted that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the (People's Republic of China) are sacred and inviolable" and provided a legal framework for greater People's Liberation Army (PLA) involvement in border security.

The Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a standoff in certain friction points in eastern Ladakh even as the two sides completed disengagement from several areas following extensive diplomatic and military talks.

The eastern Ladakh border standoff erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong Tso (lake) area. The eastern Ladakh standoff has resulted in a freeze of bilateral ties on all fronts except trade.

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