US Defence Secretary Mattis to visit India on Tuesday

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2018

First Cabinet-level visit to country under Trump administration

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis will be on his first ever visit to India this week in his present capacity to boost India-US defence and strategic ties, with a focus on expanding defence trade that reached $15 billion in 2016 from about $1 billion in 2008.

Mattis will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday. He will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the India Gate, said a release by the US Department of Defence.

“The Secretary will emphasise that the US views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia…This is the first Cabinet-level visit to India under the Trump administration,” said the release.

Mattis’ visit comes at a time when both countries have vowed to expand their defence ties under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). American defence firms see huge opportunity in the Indian market even as the Centre has evinced interest in procuring fighter planes, helicopters, drones and other such armaments.

Top defence supplier

US has already become India’s top defence supplier with the sale of three Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft, 10 C-17 Globemaster and 12 P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Boeing, as well as 22 AH-64 Apache and 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

US and India also signed a deal worth $750 million in December 2016, under which the government will be buying 145 M777 Howitzer guns for the Army.

America is now pushing India to buy around 100-150 F-16 Block 70 combat aircraft produced by Lockheed Martin as well as around 20 Sea Guardian drones. These deals are expected to inject about $15 billion more into the already rising defence trade, sources told BusinessLine.

Under DTTI, there are seven joint working groups to explore collaborative projects and programmes. Two science and technology government-to-government project agreements have been signed — the Next Generation Protective Ensembles and Mobile Hybrid Power Sources — worth roughly $2 million.

Last year, US recognised India as one of its ‘Major Defence Partner’. Both countries are also engaged in a trilateral annual naval exercise — Malabar — with Japan. Apart from this, the armed forces of both countries also conduct joint exercise —Yudh Abhyas — to strengthen inter-operability to conduct counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, regional security and peace-keeping operations.

However, it remains to be seen whether the US is willing to agree to transfer of technology for its armaments under the Make in India programme.

Focus on Afghanistan

The US is also keen to understand India’s stand on its Afghanistan policy. American President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants India to help the US by way of economic assistance toward reconstruction of the war-torn country. He has even linked it with the trade deficit the US faces with India.

“The Secretary will also express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security,” the release added.

This issue was also discussed during a meeting between Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in New York on Friday.

Published on September 24, 2017

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