One of the largest ever American commercial delegations to a foreign defense exposition has been dispatched to India. It is part of an effort by the United States to bolster strategic ties with India, which traditionally turned to Moscow for its arms purchases. As VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, American weapons merchants downplay concerns of India's neighbors that a more robust Indian military will destabilize its tense neighborhood.   

The biggest defense fair in South Asia began on Saturday with arms makers from 30 countries displaying their wares. They are hoping supply the world's fourth largest military. India is expected to spend tens of billions of dollars in the next several years on fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, artillery and related state-of-the-art technology, purchased abroad.

All of the major American military contractors are here in New Delhi for the four-day Defense Expo 2008. Their timing is fortuitous as India weans itself from its traditional weapons supplier, Russia.

The U.S. delegation is being led by former Defense Secretary William Cohen.  He downplays concerns that an Indian military with the capability to support New Delhi's strategic and diplomatic objectives will alarm Pakistan and China, two nuclear-armed countries with which India has previously clashed on the battlefield.

"Perhaps it'll persuade China that India is a strong country, a great country and one that is capable of its own defense," he said.  "That promotes peace, that promotes stability, rather than the other way around."

China and Pakistan are not present at the exposition.

Some American arms manufacturers are looking to establish a permanent presence here. They are setting up offices in India and seeking partnerships with Indian companies that have entered the field since 1991 when India first allowed the private sector to supply components to the armed forces.

Among those meeting with prospective partners during the defense exhibition, is retired U.S. navy admiral Walter Doran, now president of Raytheon Asia.

"All of us are looking for strategic partners at various levels as we come into India, and we're looking for those businesses that can provide quality, that have the manufacturing capability but also that have the ethical standards that we can work with," he said.

Lockheed Martin has announced it is establishing an Indian subsidiary, headed by Douglas Hartwick, former U.S. ambassador to Laos.  The company recently was awarded a $1 billion contract by India to supply six (C-130J) military transport planes.

Lockheed and another U.S. airplane manufacturer, Boeing, are in the competition, along with European and Russian companies, to supply India with more than 100 new fighter jets. The $10 billion tender is expected to be issued next month.