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US Defense Chief Visits India Amid New High in Bilateral Relations


U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks to reporters in India, April 10, 2016. (Photo: C. Babb/VOA)

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks to reporters in India, April 10, 2016. (Photo: C. Babb/VOA)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is in India during a wave of increased cooperation with India’s military.

The two countries’ defense ministers will discuss "a large number of activities, technology projects, exercises and so forth that reflect the closeness of the U.S.-India strategic relationship,” Carter told reporters after arriving in Goa Sunday.

Carter is looking to improve defense technology and trade cooperation while increasing military-to-military cooperation through additional bilateral and trilateral coordinated operations.

“We are doing things now with the Indians that could not have been imagined 10 or so years ago,” a senior defense official said.

Technology coordination between the two countries is focused on aircraft carrier design and the co-production of jet fighter aircraft, according to a senior defense official.

Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall visited New Delhi ahead of the secretary’s trip to discuss these projects, but another senior official told VOA Sunday the U.S. and India have not yet reached a formal agreement on this technology cooperation.

Carter said his Indian counterpart has stressed co-production and technology sharing “rather than a simple model in which buys military systems from other countries."

The Indians “have an indigenous capability there,” James Clad, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and a senior advisor for the Center for Naval Analysis, told VOA. “They want to be in the rank of people with military capability that is kind of first world.”

The visit aims to demonstrate the priority that the defense department has placed on the Asia-Pacific region.

Carter has touted the U.S.-India relationship as a “strategic handshake,” one that is “destined” to be among the most significant partnerships of the 21st century.

“As the United States is reaching west in its rebalance, India is reaching east in Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s 'Act East' policy that will bring it farther into the Indian and Pacific Oceans,” Carter said.

Clad told VOA the pivot has been a good way to formally display the “inside-our-government attitude” that gives Asia the priority many felt it deserved.

"Because we need to be enabled to focus unrelentingly on what is I think the single comprehensive challenge," Clad said, “which is the way the Chinese are coming at us.”

Carter has said the Asia pivot, however, is not aimed at any particular country and “excludes no one.” The secretary has accepted an invitation to visit China that is expected to take place later this year.

His India visit will likely ruffle feathers in (bother) neighboring China – whose aggression has caused concern in the Himalayas and the South China Sea – as well as in Pakistan, India’s rival.

Strengthening ties

Clad believes strengthening ties with Pakistan’s rival is a sensible move and “doesn’t care” if it bothers the Chinese or the Pakistanis.

“Pakistan has been an intervening drain on our resources,” Clad told VOA. “It's a country that's not really our friend. It’s a country that’s played a double and a triple game, vis-a-vis the Afghan war and all the rest of it.”

FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, right, walks with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar after receiving a ceremonial welcome in New Delhi, June 3, 2015.

FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, right, walks with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar after receiving a ceremonial welcome in New Delhi, June 3, 2015.

Goa, Carter’s first stop, is the home state of Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar. Senior defense officials say the visit to Goa underlies the “close, personal relationship” that Carter and Parrikar have developed.

“I enjoy being with him, and he’s become a good friend over several times we’ve been together now,” Carter said during their first stop at the Manguesh Temple, one of the largest and most visited Hindu temples in state of Goa.

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Parrikar also showed Carter the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 16th century that is said to hold the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier.

Carter will head to New Delhi later in the week for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior officials.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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