Why U.S. Needs India's Air Force
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Why U.S. Needs India's Air Force


During his visit to India last November, U.S. President Barack Obama characterized relations with India as “one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century.” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in turn, stated that India had “decided to accelerate the deepening of our ties and to work as equal partners in a strategic relationship that will positively and decisively influence world peace, stability and progress.” Arguing that cooperation extended to India’s immediate neighborhood, Singh said the two countries “have a shared vision of security, stability and prosperity in Asia based on an open and inclusive regional architecture.” 

But if the bilateral relationship really as is important as the two leaders suggest, then there’s undoubtedly a need for greater strategic synergy. In particular, the two countries’ militaries need to understand each other better if they are to work together for regional and global peace. 

Until now, the flag-bearers of U.S.-Indian military cooperation have been the two countries’ navies, a point that was highlighted during the response to the 2005 tsunami and subsequent reconstruction operations.  In contrast, while there have been some joint exercises between their two air forces, the rationale for air force-to-air force cooperation appears to be neither understood nor appreciated in either capital. 

Indian strategic planners seem to be in broad agreement with their U.S. counterparts in identifying the big strategic challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, yet New Delhi has been reluctant to develop joint approaches in addressing many of these challenges. 

The hope is, of course, that even if India is hesitant now, that it may change its mind over the next decade. After all, India’s interests, and its incapacity to address the challenges it faces on its own, seem bound to drive it towards the United States and Asian partners such as Japan and Australia.

Certainly, former U.S. President George W. Bush saw India as a significant pole in Asia, and close ties with India as being in U.S. interests – something that the Obama administration also seems to have recognized. Such views have prompted the United States to develop more formal defense cooperation and to talk about India in terms reserved for U.S. allies (something that causes some discomfort in New Delhi). 

The most frequently cited reason for Washington’s interest in India is as a balancer to China, but this view is more complicated than many assume. For a start, the United States has a stake in the ongoing Sino-Indian border dispute.  Although the U.S. is yet to take a position on the broader boundary and territorial dispute between the two countries, it certainly wouldn’t be in the interests of the United States to see a conflict break out – and especially to see India lose face in a military confrontation. China decided to teach India a lesson in their brief war in 1962. If this were repeated today, though, the U.S. would also be adversely affected as India’s perceived value as a regional ally would be diminished. A Chinese victory would also raise the question in the minds of smaller states over what hope they have in standing up to China if the United States stood by and watched as a major ally such as India was picked on. Such worries would undoubtedly undermine the United States’ position in Asia, and make China’s neighbors more susceptible to coercion. 

November 23, 2013 at 20:27


August 25, 2012 at 07:23

"The united states uses every developing country only for its personal gains."
did you mean, own interest? perhaps yes. But relationships with the US has always been mutually beneficial.

August 13, 2012 at 07:00

@eric : the whole world knows that russia is all business . It not only sells the arms to India but also to China(rivals indeed) after 1962. So i dont think no one believes russia blindly. food for thought.

July 28, 2012 at 21:30

India can never trust USA ,it will be foolish to trust a nation who's sole interest is its own benefit at the expense of other nations .
In fact India should try to make peace with China and it should work along with other Asian powers(China,Japan )to make 21st century as an ASIAN century . 

Remo koyu
February 3, 2012 at 02:17

The united states uses every developing country only for its personal gains.It is not a reliable ally.For an example,during the soviet war in afganistan it gave pakistan billions of dollars of weapons and aid.But after the war,it imposed many sanctions on pakistan.During the soviet era it saw china as an ally,but now the u.s regards china as a threat.The u.s cannot be trusted.

January 28, 2012 at 05:41

India and the United States have much in common regarding cooperative regional security, stability & economic progress; India becoming America’s pawn? I don’t think so. It’s a small world we live in, mankind has plagiarized, copied & mimicked from each other for millennia.

We take from each other and we give..sometimes it’s for selfish and greedy means and other times which I hope is more the case, we give and support for nothing more then to be friends. I maybe generalizing but hey! were just folks no different from others just trying to exist on a planet fast becoming absorbed with issue’s no longer centralized, far more regional and international.

India & the United States has much to loose without each other, much to gain as partners.

Michael J. Listner, Esquire
December 20, 2011 at 23:45

Excellent piece! Dr. Rajagopalan makes interesting points. Contrary to some of the comments posted, Dr. Rajagopalan is not suggesting India be a pawn of the United States but rather a partner.

December 13, 2011 at 18:33

Nicely said! The truth hurts! Centuries of Western mental/physical enslavement is hard to change!

December 12, 2011 at 00:03

Instead of becoming world power it seems that we are happy in being mere pawns of the world order.

December 11, 2011 at 03:56

ah a truely 50 cent trained eye only can see this way, thank you for enlightening us and making this a better place to love with.

December 10, 2011 at 17:35

a pearl harbour like attack will awake the political leadership of india…who are sleeping from 1947 to till date……i think a mumbai like terror strike is not sufficient…..

December 10, 2011 at 17:30

india and america will teach a lesson to communist china and terrorist pakistan very soon……

December 9, 2011 at 16:17

Not surprised by this special arrangement between India and America. After all, Indians love to be “Westerners’ Pet Dog” and they like to hear the word that they are “good boy” from the West.

A couple of century of colonization by the West have changed the mind-set of Indians. Just read their English Language newspapers, they are so Anglicized and you can feel you are in UK and the West. The Indians love all these.

John Bruni
December 8, 2011 at 06:24

It is unlikely that India will ever willingly become an American pawn. Yes, it is important that India gets to co-operate with US forces. In time, this will life the overall quality of the Indian military. America gets a lot of out co-operation too. India’s military still has a high proportion of its equipment come from the Russian Federation. For the US, American-Indian co-operation allows the US to gain access to this Russian technology thereby satisfying its need to stay ahead of the game.

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