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India readies for James Mattis visit, looks to boost defence cooperation with US

India and the US will further cement their bilateral defence cooperation, with Washington readying to expand the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) by jointly working on Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), air and land systems, and hosting an Indian military liaison officer in its Hawaii-based Pacific Command.

Ahead of US defence secretary James Mattis’s first visit to India from September 25-26, US deputy assistant secretary of defence Joseph Felter landed in India on Monday for a two-day visit with a host of proposals to strengthen the bilateral partnership. This will be followed by secretary (defence production) Ashok Gupta’s September 13 visit to Pentagon to expand the DTTI, as the Modi government eyes a fruitful relationship with Mattis.

During Mattis’s visit, the two sides will discuss stabilisation of Afghanistan in the context of US President Donald Trump’s speech that sought India’s active role in the development of the war-torn country. Apart from the threat faced from Taliban, both India and the US are afraid that a weak Afghanistan could become a base for Islamic State terrorists fleeing coalition and Russian bombings in Syria and Iraq. India is prepared to contribute its share in Afghanistan by building infrastructure in support of Kabul and sharing intelligence on terrorist groups in the Af-Pak region with the US.

Apart from this, the US is willing to offer a liaison slot to Indian military at Hawaii in Pacific Command so that the two militaries remain constantly in touch with each other over developments with security implications in the region. Indian Ambassador to US Navtej Sarna visited the Pacific Command in Hawaii this month even though the American offer is still to be assessed.

India and the US are jointly working on aircraft engines and aircraft carrier technologies under the DTTI. This will be expanded to include ISR, air and land military systems so that latest technologies could be shared between two sides. While the US is willing to offer aerial platforms and unmanned aerial platforms on the hardware front, New Delhi will first finalise the Guardian long range UAV deal before turning to a new platform.

During his two-day visit, deputy secretary Felter will hold meetings with his Indian counterpart on Tuesday as well as interact with senior functionaries of the Modi government.

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