India's prime minister and defense minister are among the top government officials who are to meet in New Delhi with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital the visit is the latest example of growing defense ties between the United States and India.
Robert Gates, on his first visit to India as U.S. defense secretary, is hoping to expand military cooperation between the two democracies.
India's warming ties with the United States in defense and maritime security come after an era of a close military relationship between New Delhi and Moscow.
Speaking briefly to reporters following his arrival in the Indian capital Tuesday afternoon, Gates noted that the relationship has been steadily growing since the two countries signed a defense framework agreement in 2005.
"We have as broad a range of interactions between the American and the Indian militaries, certainly from our side, as we have almost anywhere in the world," Gates said. "And I'm here to look at ways in which we can further expand that relationship."
India's government, in an official statement, says the two-day visit gives further impetus to ongoing defense cooperation.
Gates' trip comes as India prepares to accept bids for a lucrative contract for 126 state-of-the-art jet
fighter planes. Two American companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are among those vying for the sale, which is expected to be worth ten billion dollars. Also in the competition are Russian and European manufacturers.
The closer defense ties between Washington and New Delhi are not without domestic critics here,
especially those on the left who oppose what they call American desires to draw traditionally unaligned India into an alliance with the United States.
The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency denies he will be trying to push a stalled civil nuclear agreement between the two countries.
"I'm here independent of that to see how we can expand the military-to-military relationship, independent of the civil nuclear agreement," Gates said.
The landmark deal would allow nuclear-armed India to receive reactor fuel in spite of India not being a signatory to international non-proliferation and arms control agreements.
As to whether the controversial deal would be concluded, the defense secretary told reporters he "gave up forecasting the future" when he left the CIA.
As Gates arrived, India announced it had successfully test-fired, for the first time from under the sea, a nuclear-capable missile.
The Defense Ministry says the test, off India's southeastern coast, was launched from an undersea platform. The K-15 missile, with a reported top range of 700 kilometers, is to be deployed on a nuclear submarine India is building.
India's triad capability -- launching missiles from land, air and sea -- would put India into an exclusive club along the United States, Russia, France and China.