14:07 GMT28 February 2021
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    Passed by voice vote, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2018 directs the administration of US President Donald Trump to develop ways to advance defense ties with India.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — The NDAA is essentially the US' annual defense budget in the form of a mega bill that also encompasses provisions for defense cooperation with other countries, often moved by the House of Representatives, individually or as a group. This year's budget has authorized $696 billion for US defense forces.

    The amendment in India's case has been moved by California Democrat Ami Bera, who is of Indian heritage. After clearing the House hurdle, it will be reconciled with a bill that will test the waters in the US Senate. A combined bill will finally be sent to the president for signature.

    Following the bill's enactment, the secretaries of state and defense will have 180 days to evolve a strategy to advance defense cooperation between the two countries.

    "It is vitally important to develop a strategy that advances defense cooperation between our two nations. I am grateful this amendment passed and look forward to the Defense Department's strategy that addresses critical issues like common security challenges, the role of partners and allies, and areas for collaboration in science and technology," Bera said in a statement.

    Bera is the vice-ranking member of House Foreign Relations Committee.

    Last year's NDAA also included a provision directing the administration of former President Barack Obama to declare India a "major defense partner," to enhance military-to-military ties and defense trade between the two countries.

    The Obama administration designated India a "major defense partner," allowing the country access to defense equipment and technology as well as joint production that the US shares only with its closest allies.

    Likewise, as stated in a joint statement after the June meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump, the current US administration has already said it was committed to treating India as a "major defense partner."

    "The United States and India look forward to working together on advanced defense equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of the closest allies and partners of the United States," the joint statement said.

    Experts said sustained lobbying efforts among Congress members and the Capitol has created a huge constituency of bipartisan support for India.

    "India enjoys huge popular bipartisan support among US Congress members and, in fact, [the] India caucus of legislators cutting across party lines is one of the largest interest groups in the US.

    To put it into perspective, one needs to see how India was perceived among US legislators throughout the 1990s and for a short period in early 2000. During the same period, there was huge support for Pakistan," Ashok Sharma, adjunct faculty at the University of Melbourne, told Sputnik.

    India ordered the purchase of 22 Sea Guardian unmanned aerial systems, making the country the first foreign buyer of the sophisticated naval drones.


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