US plans to train fighter pilots of India, Japan, Oz in Guam amid China’s growing belligerence in Indo-Pacific

Last Updated 27 June 2020, 04:29 IST

The United States is contemplating to open its training facilities at the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam in western Pacific Ocean for the fighter jet pilots of India, Japan and Australia – ostensibly to step up military cooperation among the four nations to counter growing belligerence of China.

The proposed National Defence Authorisation Act 2021 (NDAA 2021) presented by President Donald Trump’s administration to the US Senate this week revealed its plan to set up training detachments for the fighter jet pilots of India, Japan and Australia at the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. The move is intended to enhance the interoperability of the air forces of the US and its three other partners in the ‘Quad’ – a four-nation coalition re-activated in November 2017 to build a bulwark against China’s hegemonic aspirations in Indo-Pacific.

The move comes even as Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that the US was bringing down number of its troops in Europe in order to re-deploy them in Indo-Pacific to make it sure that it is “appropriately postured” to counter the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in view of the growing belligerence of China, not only along its disputed border with India, but also in South China Sea.

The US in December 2019 inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore for setting up a permanent training detachment for the fighter jets pilots of the city-state in Guam. Trump Administration has now proposed to assess the “merits and feasibility” of similar MoUs with other US “allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia and India”.

New Delhi is aware of the US plan. It was discussed when Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks in New Delhi and agreed to deepen defence and security cooperation, including through advanced training and joint war-drills involving the army, navy and air forces of the two nations.

The permanent training detachment for Indian, Australian and Japanese fighter jet pilots in Anderson Air Base will enhance the interoperability of the air forces of the US and its partners in the Quad and maximize preparedness to counter any threat in the Indo-Pacific, a source in New Delhi said.

New Delhi late last month cold-shouldered the US President’s offer to mediate between India and China to help them resolve the stand-off along their disputed boundary in eastern Ladakh. But when Trump and Modi spoke to each other over phone on June 2, the two leaders did discuss the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the disputed boundary between India and China.

Though the ‘Quad’ first came into existence in 2007, it soon fizzled out. But it had a low-profile re-launch in November 2017 and senior diplomats of the four nations participated in regular consultations and called for “free and open Indo-Pacific” tacitly opposing expansionist moves by China. It was elevated to the level of Foreign Ministers in September 2019, with Pompeo and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar joining their counterparts from Australia and Japan in a four-nation meet in New York.

India of late quietly added a military heft to the Quad by inking an agreement on Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA) with Australia. The agreement is intended to open up the military bases of India and Australia for each other’s army, navy and air forces. India is also likely to sign a similar agreement with Japan soon. It had already signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US in August 2016.

The US has of late been pushing for expanding the Quad into a Quad Plus, roping in other democratic nations in Indo-Pacific – obviously in response to China’s renewed aggression in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

(Published 26 June 2020, 03:36 IST)

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