US defense secretary Esper visiting India this month to discuss $2.9-billion deals

File Photo: US defense secretary Dr Mark T. Esper with India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh

By N. C. Bipindra

New Delhi: Defence ties between India and the US received a booster shot when President of the United States Donald J. Trump was in New Delhi on Feb. 25. The two nations signed military business deals cumulatively worth nearly $3.5 billion for 24 Lockheed Martin Corp. MH-60R naval helicopters and six Boeing Co. Apache gunships.

Just three weeks later, on Mar. 16 and 17, the relationship will ramp up further when US Secretary of Defence Dr Mark T. Esper will be in New Delhi on an official visit to meet with India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and the two sides discuss more defence deals cumulatively worth $2.9 billion for 13 BAE Systems MK 45 naval guns and Integrated Air Defence Weapon Systems.

The Trump administration’s State Department had on Nov. 20 last year “made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale” to Indian Navy of up to 13 MK 45 5-inch/62-calibre (MOD 4) naval guns and related equipment worth $1.0210 billion.

It also made a similar decision on Feb. 10 to sell an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System (IADWS) for an estimated cost of $1.867 billion that would include the Raytheon Corporation and Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace as prime contractors.

The Indian Navy needs the MK-45 guns urgently, as it will arm the four Vishakapatnam-class destroyers (Project 15B) and the seven Nilgiri-class frigates (Project 17A) that are already under construction at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited and the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited.

The IADWS is expected to boost the modernisation efforts of the armed forces and help in expanding the South Asian nation’s air defence architecture for major cities like capital New Delhi.

The two leaders of their nation’s department of defence would also discuss means to further strengthen the military-to-military ties between the two nations during their talks, according to people familiar with the schedule of Esper’s visit to India.

Among matters for discussion and review between two sides include the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that India and US have decided to strengthen in their last meet of the DTTI group in Oct. last when they chose drone swarms and other hi-tech projects to jointly work on.

During Trump’s visit to Gujarat on Feb. 24, the US President told a gathering that the United States looked forward to provide India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet.

“We make the greated weaons ever made: airplanes, missiles, rockets, ships. We make the best. And we’re dealing now with India. But this includes advanced air defence systems and armed and unarmed aerial vehicles.”

Trump said that he believed the US should be India’s premier defence partner, and that’s the way it was working out.

“Together, we will defend our sovereignty, security and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region for our children and for many, many generations to come. The United States and India are also firmly united in our ironclad resolve to defend our citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Modi, in his remarks after the official meeting with Trump in New Delh on Feb. 25, said: “Increasing defense and security cooperation between India and the US is a very important part of our strategic partnership.

“India’s defence capacity has increased through collaboration on state-of-the-art defence equipment and platforms. Our defence manufacturers are becoming part of each other’s supply chains.

“Indian forces are doing most training exercises today with the forces of USA. In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented increase in interoperability between our forces.”

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