In a significant development, a powerful US Congressional conference committee has asked the Obama administration to take necessary steps to recognise India as America's major defence partner.
The committee in its report on National Defence Authorisation Bill (NDAA), running into more than 3,000 pages, has also asked the Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State to conduct an assessment of the extent to which India possesses capabilities to support and carry out military operations of mutual interest of the two countries.
This, including an assessment of the defence export control regulations and policies, need appropriate modification in recognition of India's capabilities and its status as a major defence partner, said the conference report which was unveiled by the House and Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
It now needs to be formally passed by the two chambers of the Congress -- the House of Representatives and Senate -- before US President Barack Obama can sign it into law.
Majority of the decisions of the Section 1292 of NDAA called "Enhancing defence and security cooperation with India" would, however, have to be taken by the incoming Donald Trump Administration which would take charge on January 20.
The language arrived in the conference report and NDAA has been agreed upon by both the Republican and the Democratic Party.
NDAA 2017 authorises funding for the Department of Defence and the national security programmes of the Department of Energy.
Senator John McCain said, it "enhances security cooperation between the United States and India".
McCain is Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, NDAA 2017 is still a step below what friends of India have been working for in the Congress for the past few years -- brining the defence relationship at par with top NATO allies and Israel.
"The President shall ensure that the assessment" is used, consistent with US conventional arms transfer policy, to inform the review by the US of requests to export defence articles, defence services, or related technology to India under the Arms Export Control Act and to inform any regulatory and policy adjustments that may be appropriate, it said.
NDAA 2017 also urged the Administration to designate an individual within the executive branch who has experience in defence acquisition and technology -- to reinforce and ensure, through inter-agency policy coordination, the success of the Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship and to help resolve remaining issues impeding Indo-US defence trade, security cooperation and co-production and co-development opportunities.
(Reopens FGN 3)
It seeks approval and facilitation of transfer of advanced technology, consistent with US conventional arms transfer policy, to support combined military planning with India's military for missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter piracy, freedom of navigation, maritime domain awareness missions and to promote weapons systems interoperability.
Calling to strengthen the effectiveness of the US-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative and the durability of the Department of Defence's 'India Rapid Reaction Cell', NDAA 2017 also seeks collaboration with India to develop mutually agreeable mechanisms to verify the security of defence articles, defence services and related technology such as appropriate cyber security and end use monitoring arrangements consistent with US' export control laws and policy.
After the passage of the bill, within 180 days, the Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State have been asked to jointly submit to the congressional defence committees and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on how the US is supporting its defence relationship with India.
Among other things it seeks to enhance cooperative military operations, including maritime security, counter-piracy, counter-terror cooperation, and domain awareness, in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
This comes as a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill which had different languages with regard to India.
The Senate bill contained a provision (section 1247) that would enhance military cooperation between the US and India by recommending the Secretary of Defence take certain steps regarding exchanges between senior military officers and senior civilian defence officials of the two countries.
The House amendment contained a similar provision (section 1262) that would require certain actions by the Secretary of Defence and the Secretary of State to enhance defence and security cooperation between India and the United States.
(With PTI inputs)