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India, Australia resolve to deepen defence ties

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Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews during the guard of honour ceremony at South Block in New Delhi on Wednesday. A PTI photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Australia have decided to deepen their bilateral defence partnership by taking a slew of fresh initiatives including setting up of a joint working group on defence research and material cooperation and focusing on maritime security ties in the Indian Ocean region.

It was also decided that India will take part in the first-ever air exercise with Australia.

This is in addition to the first-ever bilateral naval exercise that is scheduled to be held later this month.

The decisions came following the delegation-level talks between visiting Australian defence Minister Kevin Andrews and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar in New Delhi on Wednesday.

"Given both nations' interest in the Indian Ocean and its vital importance to regional and global trade, the ministers acknowledged the importance of freedom of maritime navigation and agreed that maritime security should remain a key component of the bilateral defence relationship," a joint statement said.

The Ministers affirmed their desire to continue to broaden and deepen the bilateral defence relationship based on shared strategic interests and to implement the action plan outlined in the Framework for Security Cooperation agreed to by the Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Tony Abbott on 18 November 2014, it said.

The two ministers decided to work for closer Air Force engagement, including Indian attendance at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) exercise PITCH BLACK.

They also decided to create closer Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) relationship, commencing with a regular subject matter expert exchange, the joint statement said.

Australia and India will also continue to cooperate through joint work as part of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus construct.

The Ministers also agreed to continue enhancing relationship between Indian and Australian navies, through bilateral ship visits, exchanges as also through Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and such other fora, the statement said.

The Defence Science and Technology Organizations of Australia and India's Defence Research and Development Organization would continue to explore opportunities to identify areas for cooperation, initially through an exchange of letters followed by the respective organization heads' meeting later in 2015, it said.

"The commencement of a partnership between our respective peacekeeping centres....This will start with closer engagement to enhance knowledge sharing and mutual capacity building," the statement said.

They also agreed to increased Air Force cooperation on aviation safety and air worthiness, including subject matter experts' exchanges, for furthering mutual understanding and improving capability.

The Royal Australian Navy will also be participating in the Indian Navy International Fleet Review in February 2016.

The continuation of the Bilateral Maritime Exercise on a biennial basis was also decided.
Both the Ministers noted with satisfaction that since the last Defence Ministers' Meeting, India and Australia have held Defence Policy Talks, and bilateral Army, Navy and Air Force Staff Talks.

To further bolster this good progress, it was agreed that the ministerial-level meetings will continue to be held regularly while the army-to-army talks would now be conducted annually, the joint statement said.

Andrews also pitched for a quadrilateral naval exercise with Japan and the US as was done in 2007.

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