'Exciting new projects' on India visit agenda: US defence secretary

New York, April 9 (IANS) Declaring that the "United States-India relationship is destined to be one of the most significant partnerships of the 21st century," US Defence Secretary Ash Carter says that he will be discussing "exciting new projects" with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during his visit starting Sunday as he held out the prospects of "a landmark co-production agreement."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations here Friday, Carter said he could not give details about the projects and added cryptically, "Stay tuned when I'm with Minister Parrikar." He added that they would discuss "the progress we've made together in aircraft-carrier, jet-fighter, and jet-engine collaboration."

"Members of my team and industry are right now, as we are here in New York, in India looking at the potential co-production of fighter aircraft," he said. "While these negotiations can be difficult, and global competition is high, I have no doubt that in the coming years the United States and India will embark on a landmark co-production agreement that will bring our two countries closer together and make our militaries stronger."

He tied the promise of manufacturing and technological cooperation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "'Make in India' campaign to expand the nation's industrial and defense base" and added that it will lead to greater co-production and co-development of defense capabilities.

During his visit the two countries will conclude several important agreements, including one on commercial shipping information exchange, which, he said, "will make many new things possible in the future."

Carter sketched a panoramic view of the burgeoning relationship between the two democracies in strategic, technological and multilateral areas which he called a "strategic handshake."

He said this "handshake" was reflected in Modi's and Preisdent Barack Obama's Joint Strategic Vision Statement and in the 2015 framework for the U.S.-India defense relationship that he and Parrikar signed last year in Delhi. "The defense framework is foundational, and it's going to guide the U.S.-India defense relationship for the next decade," he asserted.

"Our gathering partnership in defense can also be seen in India's return to major joint exercises, like Red Flag, our prestigious U.S. Air Force-hosted aerial combat training exercise where all our top pilots, and those from countries like India, train together," he said. India is scheduled to participate in the next Red Flag exercise later this month in Alaska.

He said India will again participate in Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), which he described as the world's largest international maritime exercise. He also spoke of the Malabar exercise, where India, Japan and the US held air defence and anti-submarine warfare training.

He said he expected more cooperation and joint action by the Indian and US defence forces in humanitarian missions, disaster relief and maritime security.

Carter's visit to India - to be followed by a trip to the Philippines - comes as China's asserts itself in the South China Sea raising tensions with traditional US allies in the region.

He made a pitch for developing trilateral arrangements for security in the region noting that a region-wide defence pact like NATO did not take hold in the region and instead nations there worked together less formally.

"Today, as the region changes, the United States is augmenting our bilateral relationships and alliance with trilateral and multilateral arrangements," he said. "We're weaving these partnerships together to more effectively bolster American and regional security."

In this context, Carter mentioned the Japan-Australia-India trilateral meeting last June as "a welcome and brand-new development."

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

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