US defence secretary Ash Carter on Sunday began a three-day visit to India, seeking to advance a relatively new defence relationship with a country Washington sees as a counterweight to the growing power of China. In a sign of the importance the US places on improving defence ties with India, the visit is Carter’s second in less than a year.
The two countries have been putting a lot of effort in strengthening the defence relationship, and the joint working group (JWG) on aircraft carriers is one of the shining spots in this endeavour.
Sources in the government told FE that the success of the JWG, which was formed in 2015, is expected to be highlighted during Carter’s visit.
In 2015, the joint statement issued at the end of the US President Barack Obama’s visit had stated — “Continuing bilateral engagement on the defence technology and trade initiative (DTTI), including the January 22, 2015 agreement in principle to pursue co-production and co-development of four pathfinder projects, form a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design, and explore possible cooperation on development of jet engine technology.”
With indications of a new regional alliance being informally formed between India, Japan and the US to counter threats in South China Sea and to strengthen naval presence in the region, both India and the US seem to be drawing closer to work out a common defence strategy, including sharing and deployment of advanced aircraft carrier technology known as EMALS (Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System) for the Indian Navy.
“The US offer of cooperation in building the second indigenous aircraft carrier to be made in India is intended to be the biggest symbol of India-US defense cooperation, with the potential of powering strategic ties between the two nations to unprecedented heights,” said officials.
In fact, the largest privately-held defence company in the US, General Atomics, which is expected to provide the EMALS to the Indian Navy, is in a critical key role and leading its charge globally Vivek Lall, known among the Asia-Pacific and US defence and political establishments as the most influential Asian American in US defense industry.
Now all eyes are on Lall who as a former top Boeing official was able to spearhead significant success for the US establishment in India.
The effort is to build a common global and the Asia-Pacific vision and take along countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and others to counter the growing Chinese threat in the South China Sea.
During his previous visit, Carter had said no one should be fooled by the small size of the initial “pathfinder” projects. “We are working…but we have big ambitions. Jet engines, aircraft carrier technology are big projects that we’re working very hard on. And some of the projects that we’re launching just now are, in part, intended to blaze a trail for things to come. The projects were selected based on feedback from the US and Indian defense industries. The other thing to keep in mind is that the whole point is to make these industrially and economically successful projects. So they’re not things that can be dictated by the governments; we try to involve industry,” Carter had said.