Defence minister Rajnath Singh registered India’s strong objections on the proposed F-16 package during a 20-minute telephonic conversation with the US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin in the evening. “I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide the sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” Singh later tweeted.
I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. Loo… https://t.co/WUTi5tBYSF
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) 1663159020000
Sources said Singh told Austin that India hoped the US would avoid approving the proposed sale by adhering to its policy over the last few years to not militarily help Pakistan. “The F-16s of Pakistan are clearly meant for use against India, and not against terrorists as Islamabad often professes,” a source said.
This also came through when Pakistan’s retaliation after India’s pre-dawn air strikes on the Jaish-e-Mohammed facility at Balakot on February 26 in 2019 across the Line of Control was led by F-16s a day later.
Singh’s message to Austin comes days after India also delivered a rebuke on the F-16 package to US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, Donald Lu, during the bilateral two-plus-two intersessional meeting and maritime security dialogue. The US, of course, has stated that the proposed maintenance package for the F-16s will not include “new capabilities, weapons, or munitions”.
The US readout of the Singh-Austin conversation made no mention about India’s protest against the F-16 deal. “I had a very productive call with the Indian defence minister. We are poised to make great strides in the US-India defence cooperation ahead of the ministerial two-plus-two (dialogue) next spring,” Austin tweeted.
The readout said the two ministers committed to further expanding information-sharing and logistics cooperation between the US and Indian armed forces in light of the evolving regional security environment.
Austin also expressed his support for additional mid-voyage repairs of US Navy ships in India after the “historic” maintenance of USNS Charles Drew at Chennai in August. The two sides also agreed to initiate a dialogue later this year to deepen bilateral collaboration in space, cyber, artificial intelligence, and other new domains.
India has forged an expansive strategic and defence partnership with the US over the years, which includes a flurry of combat exercises and partnership through the “Quad” and other means. The US has also bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion just since 2007, apart from the two countries inking four “foundational military pacts”.