IN THE first visit by a top Biden administration official, US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin arrived in India on Friday on a three-day visit and called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The visit aimed at boosting bilateral defence and security ties further in the wake of China’s growing military assertiveness in the region including in the Indo-Pacific. Austin expressed his country’s strong desire to further enhance the strategic partnership with India for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. During the meeting, Modi outlined his vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries and emphasised the important role of bilateral defence cooperation in Indo-US ties, a PMO statement said, adding that he asked Austin to convey his best wishes to American President Joe Biden.
The Prime Minister welcomed the warm and close relationship between the two countries which is rooted in shared values of democracy, pluralism and commitment to a rules-based order, the statement said. “Secretary Austin reiterated the US Government’s continued commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries. He expressed US’ strong desire to further enhance the strategic partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” it said. India is the third stop for Austin during his three-nation first overseas tour as the Defence Secretary, and the visit is seen as a reflection of the Joe Biden administration’s strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the region. The US Defence Secretary visited Japan and South Korea before India.
The US official was received at the Palam airport by senior Indian military officials and diplomats from the American embassy.
Ways to further accelerate India-US strategic ties, boosting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, China’s aggressive behaviour in eastern Ladakh, challenge of terrorism and the Afghan peace process are expected to be focus of the talks between the two sides, people familiar with Austin’s visit said.
They said India’s plan to procure around 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones from the US for the three services at an estimated cost of over USD 3 billion is also expected to figure in the talks.
The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Predator-B drones, manufactured by US defence major General Atomics, are capable of remaining airborne for around 35 hours and can hunt down targets at land and sea, they said.
India’s plan to acquire 114 fighter jets at a cost of around USD 18 billion could also figure in the talks as American defence majors --Boeing and Lockheed -Martin-- are eyeing it, the people said.