Dr. Ely Ratner serves as the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs

New Delhi: A senior Pentagon official has said that the US will support India’s “ability to shape a favourable balance of power” in the Indo-Pacific region, especially with China becoming more belligerent.

At an online roundtable Thursday night, Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defence (Indo-Pacific Security Affairs), also said the US supports India’s military modernisation plans — from jointly building air launched drones to bolstering New Delhi’s deterrence capability.

Ratner also called India “central” to the US’ vision for the Indo-Pacific — of having an ‘open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure region’.

Noting that both countries have made a “number of great strides” in the past few years, he said efforts are on to set up systems and procedures that will allow India and the US to operate and coordinate together in complex situations.

“Here in the department and across the US government, we view the US-India partnership as central to our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“And while there may be bumps in the road along the way, we are really focused on the long game, which is building our partnership into the future and supporting India’s ability to shape a favourable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Ratner, who met Indian defence officials in New Delhi earlier this month, said there were three key priorities that her department was pursuing.

“The first of which is supporting India’s military modernisation…commitment to bolstering India’s military capability and its deterrent capability and supporting its rise as a defence industrial power,” he said.

The assistant secretary explained that it means the US was going to work closely with India on co-producing and co-developing capabilities that will support New Delhi’s defence modernisation goals and its ability to export to American partners across the region, including in South and Southeast Asia, at affordable rates.

“The second priority that we are pursuing is deepening our operational cooperation and coordination, with an eye toward countering and outmatching our competitors across critical warfighting domains,” he said, without any reference to China, which has emerged as the main challenge to the US in the region.

Ratner further said the US was thinking about how both nations can work together in the broader regional architecture, including in coalition settings with partners within and beyond the Indo-Pacific region.

Ratner said the US “obviously recognise that India has a long and complicated security partnership — a long and complicated history, in terms of its security partnership with Russia”.

He said the US wants to support India in diversifying its arms imports and prioritising indigenous development.

Asked if America was concerned about China’s increasing naval forays into the Indian Ocean, Ratner said, “Our concerns relate to not just China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean but how it’s going to express that presence and what its intentions are.”

He added, “And what we have seen — what we have concerns about in the Indian Ocean is that we will see and have started to see a pattern of PRC and PLA behaviour that we have seen throughout other parts of the region that include non-adherence to international law, lack of transparency, including around its efforts to establish military installations overseas, as well as its use of coercive economic tools to achieve security aims”.

He said these are the issues the US was concerned about.