The unprecedented growth of various strategic bilateral initiatives between the United States and India has become an undeniable reality and an irrefutable truth in contemporary global power politics, where Washington is formulating various anti-China alliances around the globe through its strategic engagements. American quest for undermining the worldwide rise of China, enabling Beijing to counterbalance Washington’s global engagement, has selected India as an appropriate strategic partner capable of containing China effectively.
The American-China-specific global strategic engagement has developed a strong bilateral strategic partnership with other nations where India is an exception. The Indian and US governments are presently engaged in arranging multileveled interactions of their regular armed forces against common threats.
The recently held joint air exercise, Cope India 2023, is one of the leading bilateral New Delhi-Washington joint ventures, and it has provided an opportunity for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and United States Air Force (USAF) to develop a close strategic collaboration. The Cope India 2023 was the sixth edition of this joint venture of IAF and USAF, which was concluded on April 24, 2023. The Japanese Air Self Defence aircrew participated in this sixth air exercise as an observer, and the Japanese government formally announced its support to the evolving alliance of Indian and US air forces. This exercise was conducted in two phases to increase the interoperability between the air forces of both states. The first phase of this two-week-long exercise emphasized the air forces’ air mobility and the participation of C-130 and C-17 aircraft from both states. The second phase witnessed the participation of Indian frontline fighter aircraft Su-30 MKI, Rafale, Tejas, and Jaguar, whereas the US B1B bombers, MC-130J, and the F-15 fighter aircraft participated in this joint venture on Indian soil. Moreover, the involvement of Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) and aerial refueling aircraft remained significant parts of this air exercise. The two weeks exercises took place at three main Indian air force stations at Panagarh, Kalaikunda, and Agra. In this bilateral exercise, the two-sided air forces conducted air mobility training, airdrop training, and large-force and fighter-training exercises.
The Cope India air exercise is a series of air force exercises started in 2004 as a fighter training activity, held at Air Station Gwalior, India. The subsequent episodes of Cope India were conducted in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2018. The recently held sixth episode of this exercise was conducted close to the Chinese border with the aim of sending a specific message to China due to the ongoing border confrontation between India and China. This exercise is fundamentally arranged by the air forces of two strategic partners, which could not be separated from the contemporary global power politics in which the strategic thinkers of the US and India are committed to counterbalancing China in the world by designing various strategic initiatives.
The Cope India is a bilateral initiative intended to follow the model of the Malabar naval exercise with the inclusion of Japan.
Akin to Japan’s involvement in the Indo-US naval exercise, Malabar, the Cope India has the potential to become a trilateral alliance with the addition of Japan, another anti-Chinese nation. The objective of Cope India is to enhance an environment of friendliness between the participating air forces, parallel to providing participants nations with sufficient chances to increase their existing levels of engagement, exchanging of ideas, and learn the best practices of each other. According to the New Delhi-based strategic community, this joint exercise has also provided several opportunities for the participating states to augment their existing strategic collaboration. It is pertinent to mention here that the Indian and Japanese forces have already conducted various joint military exercises with India, such as Sea Dragon 2023 naval exercise.
The Indian government believes that this air exercise reiterates the commitments between the two largest democratic nations to work together against potential threats while boosting their strategic collaboration against common threats. With the help of the US, such exercises contain the substantial potential for intensifying the contemporary strategic competition between the US and China at the global level because the anti-China positions of New Delhi and Washington are the critical factors in formulating a close strategic partnership between India and the US. No doubt, this exercise is purely a matter of bilateral interaction between India and the United States, but the timing and locations of this exercise have alarmed Chinese security. It has attracted the attention of the international strategic community towards South Asia, where the Indian government is diversifying its strategic ties with various other states and continuously arranging different military exercises with other nations. Presently, it is difficult to quantify Chinese responses to this Indo-US strategic activity, but given the ongoing border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing in the Himalayas, it is more appropriate to maintain the leading security architectures of China are closely monitoring the American strategic moves in its surrounding regions. In this way, there is no harm in saying that New Delhi’s growing strategic association with the great powers beyond China could endanger other neighboring states such as Pakistan.
Chinese multiplying economic collaborations with Pakistan is also a serious concern for India, and Indian leadership has translated it as a serious threat to its position in the broader Asian power politics.
Therefore, this Cope India 2023 has communicated the increasing reliance of India on its strategic collaborations with the US, and it has multiplied New Delhi’s constantly increasing aggression against the territorially adjoining nations.
The author is an Assistant Professor, at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.