India and the US on Monday firmed up an ambitious roadmap for defence industrial cooperation to accord high priority to various projects for the co-development of military platforms and hardware, a move that comes against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict and China's increasing muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region.
The roadmap was finalised during talks between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, two weeks ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Washington.
At a media briefing, Austin said the US-India partnership is a "cornerstone" for a free and open Indo-Pacific and the deepening ties showed how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between the two "great powers" can be a force for global good.
The US defence secretary said the US-India cooperation matters "because we all face a rapidly changing world. We see bullying and coercion from the People's Republic of China and Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders and threatens national sovereignty."
It is learnt that Singh and Austin also touched upon General Electric's proposal to share technology with India for fighter jet engines and New Delhi's plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones for over USD 3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
The US defence secretary also held separate talks with NSA Ajit Doval.
"We established an ambitious new roadmap for defence industrial cooperation with a fast-track (and) high-priority for co-development and co-production projects and to build closer ties between our defence industries," Austin said.
"We look forward to advancing some of those projects during the upcoming visits," he said, indirectly referring to Modi's upcoming tour of the US.
The two sides also deliberated on ways to increase information sharing as well as new initiatives to improve maritime cooperation, including in the undersea domain.
In a statement, the defence ministry said both sides will identify opportunities for the co-development of new technologies and the co-production of existing and new systems besides facilitating increasing collaboration between defence start-up ecosystems of the two countries.
"Towards these objectives, they concluded a roadmap for US-India defence industrial cooperation which shall guide the policy direction for the next few years," it said.
The ministry said the meeting between Singh and Austin was "warm and cordial" and the two sides discussed a "substantial range" of bilateral defence cooperation issues, with a particular focus on identifying ways to strengthen industrial cooperation.
In a series of tweets, Singh said the talks revolved around enhancing defence cooperation in several areas including the convergence of strategic interests and security cooperation.
"India-US partnership is critical for ensuring a free, open and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region. We look forward to closely work with the US across the domains for capacity building and further consolidating our strategic partnership," Singh said.
The defence ministry said both sides reviewed the robust and multifaceted bilateral defence cooperation activities and agreed to maintain the momentum of engagement.
"They welcomed the inaugural dialogues held recently focusing on defence artificial intelligence and defence space. They also discussed the regional security issues given their shared interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region," it said.
In his remarks at the media briefing, Austin said that as the world's two largest democracies, India and the US have a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order that "keeps us all secure".
"Our global and strategic partnership has continued to rapidly grow. Today the US-India partnership is a cornerstone for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our deepening bond shows how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between two great powers can be a force for global good," he said.
Secretary Austin described his talks with Singh and Doval as "productive"
"Democracies must now rally together in common interests and shared values. Preserving and protecting freedom are essential to peace and prosperity and require vigorous leadership from the US and India," he said.
"So we still have a lot of work to do. I am confident that the US-India partnership will help secure an open and prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific and the wider world," he said.
The US Defence Secretary arrived in New Delhi on Sunday on a two-day tour. It is Secretary Austin's second visit to India. His previous trip to the country was in March 2021.
In a major move, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced in May last year the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation between the two countries.
In his address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday, the US Defence Secretary said that iCET "lets us explore new ways to co-develop key defence platforms".
The iCET is expected to forge closer linkages between the government, academia and industry of the two countries in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G and 6G, biotech, space and semiconductors.
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