US defense secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday (3) finalised agreements with India to jointly develop next-generation chemical and biological protection for troops and military mobile hybrid power sources.
Carter met prime minister Narendra Modi and signed a 10-year strategic defence framework pact, which was agreed to during president Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January.
The Pentagon chief also agreed a new 10-year defence cooperation pact with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parikkar and agreed to work on enhancing cooperation in maritime security, according to a joint statement released after the two leaders met.
”(The two) reaffirmed their commitment to expand and deepen the bilateral defence relationship… (and) also reviewed the existing and emerging regional security dynamics,” the statement said.
The visit comes as Washington and Beijing are engaged in a bitter war of words over China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea, with the US looking at India as a partner to play a bigger strategic role in the region.
The United States has become one of the main sources of weapons for the Indian military, and under Modi’s “Make-in-India” programme has offered joint development and production of military technologies.
While the two projects approved are modest in scale, India and the US are also exploring collaboration at the higher end of technology, Carter told reporters.
“We have big ambitions, and jet engines, aircraft carrier technology are big projects that we’re working very hard on,” he said.
The two countries conduct annual naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, where China has increased its presence in recent years.
The projects on protective clothing and next-generation power sources for the battlefield will each have $1 million in funding shared equally by the two sides, a US defence official said.
“We’ve negotiated texts, we’ve agreed to texts and they’ll be signed into effect at the end of this month,” the official said. “We went from flash to bang, meaning from the joint statement in January to agreed to and signed texts in just under five months,”
India is also eyeing US aircraft launch technology for a carrier it plans to build to replace an ageing British warship. The two sides have set up a working group to explore cooperation and the defence official said military officials will meet later this month in the US.
Carter and Parikkar agreed to expedite talks on cooperating on jet engines and aircraft carriers.
“We have the pre-eminent aircraft carriers in the world. They are excited about possible collaboration. There are multiple areas of possible collaboration. It’s a huge platform,” the US official said.
Experts say Carter sent a signal to China on closer India-US military cooperation in the future after he began his three-day trip on Tuesday with a visit to Visakhapatnam, the base of India’s eastern naval command.
“Certainly a clear message for the East that India and US will increase their military cooperation in the region,” Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said.
India, which is among the world’s top arms importers, pushed for closer cooperation and joint defence development projects.
”(The two) agreed to expedite discussions to take forward cooperation on jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction, and other areas,” the statement said.