India and the United States have sealed an agreement to jointly develop protective gear for soldiers against biological and chemical warfare, and another on building generators, defence officials said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
The projects were cleared as US Defence Secretary Ash Carter held talks with Indian leaders to expand security ties between countries that were on at odds at times during the Cold War but have since drawn closer against the rising weight of China.
The United States has become one of the top sources of weapons for the Indian military, upstaging Russia in recent years. Meanwhile under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make-in-India” program the country is offering joint development and production of military technologies.
While the two projects approved are modest in scale, India and the United States are also exploring collaboration at the higher end of technology, Carter told reporters.
“We have big ambitions, and jet engines, aircraft carrier technology are big projects that we’re working very hard on,” he said.
Carter is due to sign a new 10-year defence cooperation pact with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parikkar later on Wednesday that will include cooperation in maritime security, another official said.
The two countries conduct annual naval exercises in the Indian Ocean where China has made forays in recent years in a sign of its expanding reach.
Both the project on protective clothing for soldiers as well as developing the next-generation power source for the battlefield will each have $US1 million in funding shared equally by the two sides, a US defence official said, according to Reuters.
“We’ve negotiated texts, we’ve agreed to texts and they will be signed into effect at the end of this month. We went from flash to bang, meaning from the joint statement in January to agreed to and signed texts in just under five months,” the official said.
The other two projects under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative that Carter himself launched before his elevation as defence secretary relate to Raven mini-UAVs and surveillance modules for the C-130J military transport plane.
India is also eyeing US aircraft launch technology for a carrier it plans to build to replace an ageing British warship. The two sides have set up a working group to explore cooperation and the defence official said military officials will meet later this month in the United States.
One of the key carrier technologies India is interested in is General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). EMALS works in concert with catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) systems which are used aboard US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the most advanced carriers currently in the US fleet.
This technology would allow Indian vessels to launch aircraft at a faster rate and with improved ease, compared to previous models. An EMALS and CATOBAR system would also allow Indian carriers to launch a range of heavy fighters and surveillance planes.
India has become increasingly concerned over Chinese expansionism, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Beijing has been steadily investing in port installations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, countries in India’s strategic backyard. These ports have allowed for Chinese merchant vessels, in addition to submarines and warships, to have safe harbour throughout the Indian Ocean.
China recently raised Indian suspicions by docking submarines at the port of Colombo in nearby Sri Lanka and there is concern that Beijing is trying to construct a “string of pearls” through the Indian Ocean in order to establish naval and commercial superiority in the region. China and India also have a number of simmering territorial disputes along their extensive shared land border.
New Delhi’s growing wariness of China has created further openings for an expansion of defence relations with the US. Washington is currently involved in its “Pivot to Asia,” an attempt to refocus military and political efforts towards China’s areas of strategic interest. The US might see India as a local counterbalance to Chinese power, which may explain why the US is willing to share such advanced technologies.
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