New Delhi: The Defense Secretary of United States Lloyd Autin will be on a visit to India from March 19 to 21 as part of his first overseas travel. This is the first in-person visit of any administrator of President Joe Biden to India since he took charge as the new US President two months ago.
Announcing his visit on twitter, the US defence secretary said, “I’ll then travel to India to meet with my counterpart, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh , and other senior national security leaders to discuss deepening the US-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries.”
The US defense secretary will also be visiting Japan, South Korea. The Pentagon in a statement ahead of the weeklong visit to the region starting March 13 said that the focus will be on “advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”
His visit comes in the backdrop of Quad — India, Australia, Japan and US leadership virtual meet. This is the first such meet at leadership level for the group. Previous meetings of the group has been at senior official levels and at foreign ministers.
The Indian defense ministry in its statement said, “Both sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defense cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
Both countries have increased defense partnership in recent years. India signed four key defense pacts with US in last few years. These were Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 which enhanced information sharing and interoperability, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), signed in December 2019 that allows for the transfer of technologies in support of defense production, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share unclassified geospatial information and the agreement on Navy-to-Navy Information Sharing in October 2020.
India has substantially increased its acquisition of US defense equipment with Indian forces operating US-sourced platforms such as P-8s, C-130Js, C-17s, AH-64s, CH-47s, Precision Guided-Excalibur Munitions, and M777 howitzers. In February, India agreed to acquire Apache and MH-60R multi-mission helicopters worth $3.1 billion and is considering other US systems.