U.S. - India to Talk Defense Tech Transfer & Co-Production

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, walks off his plane upon arriving arrival in New Delhi on Tuesday. Panetta is expected to disc...

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, walks off his plane upon arriving arrival in New Delhi on Tuesday. Panetta is expected to discuss technology transfer in India during his nine-day Asia trip. (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)

The Pentagon is looking to broaden its military relationship with India in the coming years across a multitude of areas including technology transfer and co-production of equipment.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to speak about this and other defense-related issues in meetings with a number of Indian officials during a two-day visit to New Delhi. He is supposed to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defense Minister A. K. Antony and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon.

U.S. and Indian officials are also expected to discuss military equipment modernization and technology transfer, a senior defense official said.

“We are going to be basically trying to figure out now and over the coming years how we keep moving our bilateral defense trade relationship forward,” the official said.

During the past decade, New Delhi has purchased more than $8 billion in U.S. weapons. India’s defense industry is expected to grow more robust and sophisticated in the coming years, the official said.

“We really think that India’s military modernization is an important thing that we support,” the official said.

U.S. officials also plan to discuss co-production opportunities. This is already occurring with C-130 cargo plane spare parts, the official said.

“We want to talk about high-tech cooperation,” the official said. “We want to talk about a lot of places this relationship can go. Those will be … advances that flow out over years.”

The U.S. relationship with India has steadily improved during the past decade, following the implementation of sanctions, which have since been removed, after New Delhi conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1998. The militaries of both countries have participated in a number of joint exercises that have increased in scope and complexity.

Last year the countries partnered in more than 50 military-related activities.

“We believe that is very important to help India modernize its capabilities and develop its military capabilities so it can be a net provider of security in the region and internationally,” a second senior defense official said.

Panetta has traveled to India as CIA director, but this is his first visit as the defense secretary.

He will give a major policy speech at India’s oldest think tank, the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), where he is expected to elaborate on the role the Pentagon envisions India playing in its new Pacific-focused military strategy. India is the only country mentioned by name in the strategy.

DoD believes India will play a critical role “promoting peace and stability and economic prosperity in the broader Asia-Pacific region,” the second senior defense official said.

To that end, the United States wants India to play a larger role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan through economic and training support.

“Over the last 10 years, for a variety of reasons, India has not played a particularly active role in Afghanistan, even though steadily it’s increased its economic investments in Afghanistan, helping with the economic reconstruction of that country,” the official said.

India has trained Afghan army and police in the past, “but on a relatively small scale,” the official said.

The Pentagon hopes New Delhi will consider an increased training role.

“We welcome India playing a more active role in Afghanistan, a more active political and economic role,” the official said. “We welcome India’s contributions to training the Afghan national army and Afghan national police.”

The meetings in New Delhi come as U.S. relations with Pakistan have been strained. Pakistan shut down U.S. supply routes into Afghanistan after a U.S. strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

As U.S. and NATO forces begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan in advance of the planned 2014 exit, defense officials expect neighboring nations to play a larger role in the country’s reconstruction.

“We would like to see all of the neighbors, including Pakistan and India, harmonize their approaches, because they do share an interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan,” the official said.

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