India-US defence relationship 'strategic handshake': Ashton Carter

NEW YORK: The defence relationship between India and the US has emerged as that of a "strategic handshake", Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said today on the eve of his second visit to India.

"Over the course of my years at the Defence Department, I have seen a remarkable convergence of US and Indian interests - what I call a strategic handshake," Carter said in his major policy speech on Asia Pacific on the eve of his nearly two-week overseas trip that will take him to India, the Philippines and the Middle East.

Travelling to India at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar, Carter would be visiting the Defence Minister's home state of Goa, and New Delhi where he would be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Aptly reflecting the defence relationship between the two countries, Carter for the first time used the term "strategic handshake" from a public forum to describe defence ties between the two largest democracies in the world.

"As the United States is reaching west in its rebalance, India is reaching east, in Prime Minister Modi's 'Act East' policy that will bring it farther into the Indian and Pacific Oceans," Carter said in his remarks before the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), a top American think-tank.

Carter said this handshake is reflected in the Joint Strategic Vision Statement that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi released last January, and the 2015 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, which he signed with Parrikar last year in New Delhi.

The Defence Framework is foundational and will guide the US-India defence relationship for the next 10 years.

"There is another handshake between our countries as well - a technological one. In 2012, the United States and India created the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI, to leverage the convergence between our industrial and technological abilities in an unprecedented way," Carter said.

DTTI grasps hands with Modi's 'Make in India' campaign to expand the nation's industrial and defence base and will lead to greater co-production and co-development of defence capabilities.

In his meetings with Modi and Parrikar, Carter said, he would be discussing the progress the two nations have made in aircraft carrier, jet fighter, and jet engine collaboration.

"We will talk about exciting new projects, the details of which I cannot go into this afternoon," he said.

"There is so much potential here, which is why we're seizing every opportunity we can," Carter said adding that last year, the Indian government reached out to the US to discuss the possibility of launching joint production on a new platform, to build on the work Lockheed Martin and Indian industry achieved on the C-130J aircraft programme, and what Boeing and Indian industry will achieve in the production of Apache and Chinook helicopters India recently purchased.

A team of senior Pentagon officials and the defence industry are currently now in India looking at the potential co-production of fighter aircraft.

These conversations represent the growing enthusiasm of the US-India partnership, and even more than that its promise, he noted.

Acknowledging that these negotiations can be difficult and global competition is high, Carter said he has no doubt that in the coming years, the US and India will embark on a landmark co-production agreement that will bring the two countries closer together and make the militaries stronger.

"As our strategic and technological interests have drawn together, so too have our military ties. We are coming together operationally across domains - by air, land, and sea - to collaborate in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security and domain awareness," Carter said.

This week, India and the US will also conclude several important agreements, including one on commercial shipping information exchange, which will make many new things possible in the future, Carter said.

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