NEW DELHI —
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi to bolster defense and strategic ties.
Hagel is on a three-day-visit to India to prepare ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's impending meeting with President Barack Obama next month.
One of the major benefits for Hagel could be an Indian offer to significantly increase an order for U.S. attack helicopters.
The Apache gunships and a deal for Chinook helicopters, both built by Boeing, will top the agenda in Hagel's talks on Friday with India's new administration, including Defense and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, later in the day.
India has offered a follow-on order of 39 AH-64D Apache helicopters in addition to the 22 now being negotiated, an Indian Defense Ministry official said. The sides have been wrangling over the price of the gunships, however, with the initial deal having been estimated to be worth $1.4 billion.
The two countries have rapidly expanded military and business ties in recent years, despite discord over issues such as intellectual property rights and market access.
Washington is keen to step up cooperation across the board, seeing India as a strategic partner in the face of an increasingly powerful and assertive China.
Hagel's talks will also cover military exercises and co-production and co-development of armaments and the renewal of a 10-year defense cooperation agreement that runs until 2015.
Hagel's trip follows one by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week and is part of the build-up to talks between Modi and President Barack Obama in Washington in September.
The U.S. is hoping for Modi to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, citing potential for billions of dollars of new arms sales in the next few years.
Last month, India's cabinet cleared a proposal to allow 49 percent foreign participation in the defense industry, up from a current cap of 26 percent.
U.S. defense sales to India have grown from the low hundreds of millions of dollars in the decade to 2008 to more than $9 billion since that year.