The US Congress has cleared the decks for designating India as a "major defence partner" of the United States by passing the 2017 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA).
The legislation was passed by the US Senate on Thursday by 92 to 7 votes.
NDAA 2017 asks the Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State to take steps necessary to recognise India as America's major defence partner in a bid to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.
It was passed earlier by the US House of Representatives by 375-34 votes and now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
"I applaud the inclusion of forward-leaning provisions designed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation with India, including expanded military-to-military engagement, increased defence trade, and greater cooperation on technological development," Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill on Thursday.
"As the world's largest democracy and one with which US strategic interests increasingly align, India is an important partner in promoting economic growth and global security," said Warner, who will serve as Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the 115th Congress.
Titled 'Enhancing defense and security cooperation with India,' Section 1292 of the NDAA asks the defence secretary and the secretary of state to take steps necessary to recognise India as America's major defense partner of the US.
It also asks the administration to designate an individual within the executive branch who has experience in defense acquisition and technology to reinforce and ensure, through interagency policy coordination, the success of the Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship; and to help resolve remaining issues impeding US-India defense trade, security cooperation, and co-production and co-development opportunities.
The act calls for 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, and 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 Defense's 'India Rapid Reaction Cell', NDAA 2017 also seeks collaboration with India to develop mutually agreeable mechanisms to verify the security of defense articles, defense 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.
NDAA 2017 is still a step below what friends of India have been working for in the Congress for the past few years - bringing the defence ties 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 asks 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.
(With PTI inputs)