In a move that holds great strategic significance, Nato has offered to share its missile defence technology with India to build its capability to shoot down incoming enemy missiles, realising the commonality of threats faced by the 28-nation grouping and South Asia's pre-eminent power.
India, thus, becomes the only nation, apart from Russia, outside of the Nato that the US-led military alliance is willing to work in the critical missile defence technology sector.
The Nato missile defence project, launched in May 2001, aims to work with member-countries to meet the group's responsibility of defending itself from missile attacks. India too is in the process of developing its own ballistic missile defence system based on its Prithvi ballistic missile platform considering the missile threats it faces from rivals in the region.
"You (India) have a missile threat that confronts you. We (Nato) have a missile threat that confronts us. Our need to defend against these missile threats might be the same," a senior Nato official told a group of Indian journalists on a visit to the group's headquarters here.
Asked to specify the area that Nato can cooperate with India on missile defence, the official, who did not wish to be named, said, "One will be in the technology of defence."
The official noted that the threats that India and Nato faced may come from different directions and Nato doesn't necessarily see the threats that India sees.
"Because your strategic situation is different from ours. But the technology of discovering and intercepting missiles is the same," he said.
However, he admitted that the cooperation will have to be led by the Americans. The US has an advanced Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) development project than any other member-nation in the Nato, though India has equally robust bilateral relations with most of them including France and United Kingdom.
"The fact is it is more Indo-US than Nato-Indian relationship. But we are getting into ballistic missile defence in a pretty big way. As a result, there is a repository of knowledge that we can share and we can train together. There are experiences that we can talk about," the official said.
India's BMD programme, launched in the middle of the previous decade, is a two-tiered shield system consisting of two interceptor missiles - the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile for lower altitude interception. It tested the PAD for the first time in November 2006 and the AAD in December 2007.
With these tests, India became the fourth country to have successfully tested the anti-missile system after the US, Russia and Israel. However, the Indian BMD, mainly focusing to counter missiles with less than 5,000-km range, is far from being perfected and further tests of the BMD system are being planned.
The US has a multiple-missile threat defence system called the National Missile Defence (NMD) intended to shield an entire country against incoming missiles, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles of over 7,500-km range and other shorter range ballistic missiles.
Nato is conducting three missile defence-related activities -- theatre ballistic missile defence capability for short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats, missile defence for the entire Nato territory, and missile defence cooperation with Russia.
The Nato-Russian cooperation is a by-product of the group expanding its membership post-Cold War beginning 1989, to make allies out of former enemies from the Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland and Czech Republic.