Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, was in India for a bilateral defense ministerial dialogue on August 19 and 20. He met with his Indian counterpart, Nirmala Sitharaman, and the two discussed a range of issues related to the India-Japan defense cooperation agenda. New Delhi and Tokyo treat each other as strategic partners and, since a 2008 joint declaration on security cooperation, have grown closer as partners on defense issues.
This year’s meeting saw a sharp emphasis on maritime security in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions, under the aegis of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy and India’s “Act East” policy. “The Ministers shared the recognition that it is important for the two countries to further strengthen defense and security cooperation under the ‘Japan-lndia Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ that aligns Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ with India’s ‘Act East Policy’ to work together in achieving common objectives,” an Indian readout of the dialogue noted.
Onodera and Sitharaman acknowledged growing Indo-Japanese cooperation on a range of issues, including a bilateral cooperation agreement between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF). The two navies have conducted bilateral exercises since 2012 and, in 2015, Japan became the third permanent participant in the annual U.S.-India Malabar series of exercises. Indian Army personnel also observed a U.S.-Japan bilateral humanitarian assistance/disaster relief exercise in November 2017. The two ministers also focused on capacity building the Indo-Pacific region.
The two ministers acknowledged ongoing defense technology cooperation between the top defense research and development organizations in both countries. The first-ever bilateral cooperative project focused on unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and robotics, according to an Indian readout of the meetings. Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistical Agency and India’s Defense Research and Development Organization are cooperating in the endeavor.
Curiously, this year’s Indian joint press statement on the dialogue gave no updates on the status of a long-pending sale of Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy. Last year, the two defense ministers “noted the effort made by both countries regarding the cooperation on US-2 amphibious aircraft.” The two sides have been talks over the sale for years. If concluded, the deal would represent Japan’s first major overseas defense deal since the 2014 lifting of a self-imposed embargo on arms exports.
India-Japan cooperation on defense issues is expected to continue, regardless of progress on the US-2 sale itself. In November, the chief of staff of the MSDF, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, will visit India. Sitharaman is slated to visit Japan next year to continue annual ministerial exchanges on defense issues.