US defence budget for fiscal 2019 aims at improved ties with India

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed the annual defence spending bill for fiscal 2019, which among other things speaks of greater American commitment to the Indo-Pacific region in view of the challenge being posed by China and better defence relationship with India.

The House approved the National Defence Authorisation Bill (or NDAA-2019) by 351-66 votes. It now needs to be passed by the Senate, before it can be sent to the White House for the President Donald Trump to sign it into law.
"In the Indo-Pacific region, the United States faces a near-term, belligerent threat armed with nuclear weapons and also a longer-term strategic competitor," said Congressman Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"In fact, four of the five key security challenges — China, Russia, North Korea, and terrorism — reside in the PACOM area of responsibility. Critical to meeting all of the challenges in the region is our relationship with our allies and also with countries with whom we share interests," he said.
The bill seeks renaming US Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command. It seeks a better defence relationship with India.
The NDAA proposes to plan and provide the necessary forces, military infrastructure, logistics capabilities, and bilateral and multilateral training in the region through the Indo-Pacific Stability Initiative to bolster the Department of Defence's efforts.
The US will invest in critical military capabilities to deter aggression and respond rapidly to crisis and supports strong missile defence systems to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, including the DoD's development of new capabilities and efforts to provide for a layered defence of the homeland.
The renaming of US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command emphasises the Commands' responsibility across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The DoD has been asked to conduct a study on the operational requirements needed for language expertise in Korean, Chinese Mandarin and Russian and a plan to address any shortfalls.
Besides the NDAA requires the US administration to construct a "whole-of-government strategy" to address China's activities, especially in the South China Sea.
It requires an assessment and planned responses to address activities by the Chinese Communist Party to include the use of political influence, information operations, use of intelligence networks, economic and military tools, and cyber activities and a US strategic communication plan to counter Chinese influence.
It also highlights China's provocative military, maritime and air activities in the Indo-Pacific region by requiring a quarterly report to Congress that may be disseminated to allies and partners. NDAA modifies the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative by renaming it Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative.
It would include India as a covered country and allow for the inclusion of additional countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In an accompanying report, the House said the US should continue to "develop and deploy robust missile defence" in the Indo-Pacific region.
It allows the Pentagon to conduct missile defence exercises in the Indo-Pacific region with US regional allies and partners to improve interoperability, it said.
Supporting quadrilateral cooperation among the United States, Japan, Australia and India, NDAA said Secretary of Defence may conduct a quadrilateral naval military exercise with these countries.
NDAA also adds new reporting requirement on India-US defence relationship. It now would include a description of the progress on enabling agreements between the US and India, any limitations that hinder or slow progress, measures to improve interoperability and actions India is taking or the Secretary of Defence or the Secretary of State believe India should take, to advance the relationship with the United States.
While the NDAA authorised $700 million as Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan, the bill passed by the House says that not more than $350 million may be provided until the Secretary of Defence certified that Pakistan is taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani Network.