US Military Aircraft Refuels at Indian Base; “Expect More”

The long-range anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft (P-8 Poseidon) landed over a week ago at a strategic airbase in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for refueling under an agreement signed between India and US in 2016.

“The United States and India have taken their shared anger toward Beijing and forged stronger diplomatic and military ties that could alter the balance of power in the region”

New York Times
File photo of US maritime surveillance aircraft P-8 Poseidon

The development assumes more significance because it comes at a time when India and China are locked in a tense stand-off in Ladakh.

The defense pact (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)) was operationalized in 2017 with the US Navy tanker refueling an Indian Navy ship in the Sea of Japan. This is the first time an American aircraft had done so. In September, an Indian ship had been refueled through a US tanker.

The relationship between the USA and India, especially in so far as their shared approach to China is concerned, goes back to July 1947.

“Then Prime Minister-designate, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, authorized the USAF and the CIA to station USAF personnel at 6 Indian air bases, and service, repair, refuel, rearm and launch combat- and combat support aircraft from these against the CPC Red Army, says US-China and South Asia analyst based in Asia Pacific.

According to him, the US DoD ONA and Congress back in 1999 separately identified China as the near-peer rival, cut off links to the PLA, and began cultivating India.

“Since then, US-Indian collaboration against China has deepened progressively”, says the analyst. He has authored seven books on US-China relations.

Cold War in the High Himalayas: The USA, China and South Asia in the 1950s
US-Chinese Strategic Triangles: Examining Indo-Pacific Insecurity

The above two books carry details of Indo-US collaboration against China.

According to him, US defense, intelligence, sci-tech and economic support has revived exactly as the ONA July 1999 Summer Study recommended.

In his view, direct joint operations of base facilities with USA, Japan and Australia are part of the new Quad alliance against China. “Expect more,” he comments.

A senior Pakistani military official agrees that the development primarily operationalizes the cooperation between US and India in the military domain. “The main target would remain the development of a military alliance (referred to as QUAD) as a hedge against growing military influence of China”.

Indo-Pacific: QUAD alliance

According to the Pakistani official, the Arabian Sea is going to be one of the main areas of contest between China and US-led alliance. “India has been absent from US influence for long but is slowly acceding to US embrace, thanks partly to Chinese belligerence in Ladakh,” he says.

What would be or could be the impact for Pakistan?

“The side effect would be that Pakistan’s security will be adversely affected by emerging Indo-US strategic alliance,” says the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.

When asked how can this be mitigated, the official added,”The disadvantage can only be mitigated through our internal consolidation (Internal Security and Economy) and how quickly can China learn to act and behave like a real super power”.

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, U.S. sees opportunity in the wake of recent India-China conflict.

“The United States and India have taken their shared anger toward Beijing and forged stronger diplomatic and military ties that could alter the balance of power in the region,” it says.

Their friendship has been on an upswing over the past two decades, but the border dispute with China has accelerated relations between the two countries.

Weeks after India and China engaged in their deadliest border clash in decades, the sight of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier entering the Bay of Bengal drew attention across the region.

The carrier, Nimitz, and its strike group deployed to the area in mid-July to conduct an exercise with the Indian Navy in pursuit of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a statement by the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, whose headquarters are in Japan. But as tensions soar between India and China, two nuclear-armed neighbors, the joint operation took on a greater significance.

A China observer based in the Middle East pointed out that Beijing has no intentions to act like an imperial power or become one. “Yes, it is already a global economic power and cruising to become a super power”…”in a bipolar world”, he adds. “With Russia it could be more like a two-and-a-half bipolar world”.