US Wants to Expand Military Ties with India, Eyes Fighter Deal

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Sep 24 (IANS) Ahead of Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony's visit here next week, the US has said it wants to expand its military ties with India in "mutually beneficial" ways with more exchanges and exercises.

"I had a very good visit to India last year, and met with the defence minister and met the prime minister (Manmohan Singh)," Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Wednesday when asked about what would be on the table during Antony's Sep 27-28 visit.

"We are looking to expand this relationship in ways that are mutually beneficial," he said. "But I think we'll also be looking at ways in which we can expand our exchanges, exercises, and strengthen-further strengthen the relationship that we have."

Gates also indicated that he would talk with Antony about the $9.11 billion deal for the purchase of 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force through an open competition.

Two American fighter planes, F-16IN and F/A-18IN, a version of the Super Hornet, are among six aircraft on offer in what has been touted as India's single largest defence deal ever. The Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Mikoyan MiG-35 are the others in the running.

"I'm sure that we'll - they have a big competition going on for a new modern fighter. We'll probably have some conversations about that," he said referring to the deal.

Asked about India's concerns about US restrictions on export of dual use high-technology items to India, Gates said it was high on on his list and he would like to see those restrictions eased.

"I think that, that is certainly high on our list, particularly in the context of export-import, or export controls, and my view of the importance of changing those export controls in ways that better protect the things that are really important and open up trade and allow US companies to sell abroad those things that technologies that are not critical," he said.

"So, I think India certainly is high on our list in terms of a country that we would like, I would like to see those restrictions eased," Gates said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who jointly addressed the press conference with Gates, said "just the military-to-military relationship with India is exceptionally strong and growing".

"We are very committed to that, and with all of our services. I was recently there and it has taken on a significance that is equal to so many other historic relationships for us, and we know that," he said.

"The Indian Ocean, we also know, is an incredibly important body of water; not just now, but also in the future. So we recognise the importance of keeping that relationship as strong as it is, and also making it grow," Mullen added.


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