On his first tour to India as US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter is making it a point to start with a visit to the Visakhapatnambased Eastern Naval Command that is tasked to maintain Indian presence in the South China sea region and the Strait of Malacca.
In what is seen as a result-oriented visit, India and US will not only sign a new defence cooperation agreement to take ahead from a 2005 pact but are also set to explore the possibilities of cooperating in the development of missile defence systems and take forward proposals for joint development of military equipment.
Carter, who is coming to India after a stopover in Vietnam following the Shangri La dialogue, is meeting the top Indian leadership, including PM Narendra Modi.
Officials say that the new 10-year defence framework agreement being signed during the visit will contain a specific reference to the Defense Technology & Trade Initiative (DTTI) that seeks to co-develop defence systems. Among the proposals expected from Washington is the possibility for cooperation in the development of a new basic trainer for the Indian Air Force.
The Defence Ministry has already tasked HAL to develop a new turboprop trainer aircraft to meet the requirement of close to 100 planes needed by the air force and US is expected to offer assistance in the program. A possibility being looked at is assisting HAL to develop a new aircraft on the lines of the Hawker Beechcraft T 6 Texan II trainer.
Besides, the two sides will explore possible cooperation in the advanced field of missile defence systems. While India is developing an indigenous missile shield, the last two tests have not been successful.
The US has offered assistance in the missile defence system in the past too but given the recent upswing in relations, more concrete talks are expected during the visit. Discussions will also take place on increasing capabilities to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).