US secretary of defence Ashton Carter’s scheduled visit to India in the second week of December remains unchanged amid the transition from the Obama administration to the newly-elected Trump government.
“When defence minister Manohar Parrikar and secretary Carter meet on December 7, among the high-profile engagements on the table are the Indian Navy’s request for 22 Guardian unmanned aircraft from General Atomics post India’s admission into Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing Company’s offers to make the fighter planes in India,”a source told FE.
As reported by FE earlier, India’s request for 22 Predator Guardian drones, made in June, is in an advanced stage of negotiations, and both sides are keen to close the deal at the earliest. The US is currently considering export of category 1 Guardian, and this is expected to enhance maritime security and cooperation between both the nations, keeping in mind China’s advances in the Indian Ocean.
Secretary Carter, who has been a champion of defence cooperation with India, hopes to showcase the resolve of operationalising the ‘major defence partner’ status with tangible deliverables. Vivek Lall, chief executive of US-based General Atomics, who has championed US-India strategic engagements for the last two decades, has been a strong bipartisan supporter of president-elect Donald Trump and his team. He was also responsible for enhancing India’s maritime security by spearheading India’s procurement of Boeing P8I aircraft in 2009.
Lockheed Martin is seen as a potential frontrunner for making F16 fighter aircraft in India. However, as per industry sources, they need a stronger engagement with India to cross the finish line as Swedish defence major Saab is a fierce competitor with its Gripen.
Lockheed Martin has already sold C130 aircraft to India and has some industrial engagements. But the company’s offer to India is apparently far superior to the ones in Pakistan’s inventory. Merillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed, has expressed great interest in the opportunity to sell to India.
Besides, the two sides are expected to review the progress on foundational agreements like CISMOA (Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement), and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), ‘Make in India’ initiatives, and acquisition of key critical technologies that are in the common interests of both governments for strategic reasons.