India and the US have been regularly conducting war games

NEW DELHI: The US National Defence Authorisation Act 2020 lays out for the first time a clear roadmap for leveraging the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese expansionist moves. The document also makes it clear that the US Secretary of Defence will at any given point of time have ready ‘three long-term competitive strategies’ to meet the Chinese challenge. For this purpose, the act specifically states that the Pentagon will work closely with the Director of the Office of Net Assessment.

The Director of the Office of Net Assessment provides the Secretary of Defence with comparative assessments of the prospects of the US’s military capabilities in relation to other countries, and political and regional implications of these assessments.

The NDAA 2020, which was signed by US President Donald Trump a few days ago, authorises $738 billion for fiscal year 2020 for military activities, including expansion of the aircraft fleet and the F-35 program. Both these will add teeth to the American deployment in the Indo-Pacific region.

The NDAA envisages having a theatre campaign plan and widening the training of friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific region. For this, the act has amended a certain section of the NDAA of 2016, which deals with the US building the capacities of foreign countries in maritime security and domain awareness. New paragraphs have been added in regard to the US Secretary of Defence notifying the Congress on such assistance and training. An important one is on having a theatre campaign plan.

“A description of the elements of the theatre campaign plan of the geographic combatant command concerned and the inter-agency integrated country strategy that will be advanced by the assistance and training provided under subsection (a) (read as on military training to foreign countries),” the NDAA 2020 states.

The Act also requires the Secretary of Defence to explain, “the specific unit or units whose capacity to engage in activities under a program of assistance or training to be provided under subsection (a) will be built under the program, and the amount, type, and purpose of the support to be provided’’.

The report to the Congress will have the assessment of the capabilities and priorities of each country and how the US security cooperation can be used to enhance these capabilities, according to the Act.

India and the US have been regularly conducting war games such as the Malabar naval exercise to ensure better cooperation and operability in the Indo-Pacific region. Also, the Indian Navy will be hosting one of its biggest exercises, Milan, at Visakhapatnam in March next year and 41 countries, including the US have been invited for it. The act is expected to build India’s maritime security capabilities in the backdrop of an existing agreement called the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the US that provides reciprocal logistics support during port visits and training.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defence “acting through the Director of the Office of Net Assessment, shall conduct a study on not fewer than three possible long-term competitive strategies with respect to the People’s Republic of China that focuses on the identification of opportunities to shape strategic competition to the advantage of the United States”.

The results of the study will be submitted to the congressional defence committees within one year after the date of the enactment of the NDAA. This gains importance with India being watchful of China’s continued presence in the Indian Ocean since 2008.

The US will also make a comprehensive strategy to address security concerns posed by China’s PLA support base in Djibouti to US military installations in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. This base is also a matter of concern to India, as it allows China to expand its naval reach.

The US is also clear on understanding the military activities, including infrastructure and force deployments, of Russia and China in the Arctic region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in June at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, had decided to widen their economic partnership in the Arctic region.