F-16 Fighting Falcons from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, taxi down the runway April 21, 2017, at Albacete Air Base, Spain, to participate in the Tactical Leadership Program. TLP is an annual NATO Mission Commander’s School training program designed to provide joint tactical training with NATO allies to increase NATO coordination and strengthen combined air operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Justin Fuchs)

Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan’s security challenges look set to dominate the agenda when US Defence Secretary James Mattis visits India this week.

Mattis is scheduled to arrive in Delhi late Monday and is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new defence minister in the first visit by a top US official since Donald Trump became US president in January.

“The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia,” a Pentagon statement said.

Trump and Modi met in June in Washington, and Mattis’ visit is a sign “the political leadership in both countries place defence cooperation as a top priority”, Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum, told AFP.

Delhi and Washington share concerns about Afghanistan, and Trump announced a new strategy for the war-torn country last month, which cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops.

The billionaire president has urged India to boost assistance to Afghanistan’s economy, and has lambasted Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos”.

Mattis “will express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security”, the Pentagon said.

India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Last year, it offered some $1 billion in aid.

Delhi frequently accuses Islamabad of stirring up violence in Afghanistan and harbouring militant groups.

In 2016, the United States designated India a “Major Defence Partner” and Trump has sought to further boost military ties+ , praising India for contributing to regional peace and stability, and for purchasing US military equipment.

Mattis is likely to seek to convince India to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 aircraft — a lucrative deal pegged at $15 billion.
Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the fighter jet to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.

The US manufacturer is competing with Swedish defence giant Saab, whose Gripen E made its maiden flight in June.

India has said it requires at least 100 single-engine fighters to counter the growing air threat posed by China and Pakistan.

Saab and Lockheed have both offered to build the jets locally to comply with Modi’s “Make-in-India” initiative, which aims to cut imports and build a domestic defence industry.

US giant Boeing has also offered to set up a manufacturing facility in India for production of its F/A 18 Super Hornet aircraft, if it wins a deal.

A drone deal for the Indian Navy will also likely be up for discussion, a source familiar with the negotiations told AFP.

“Since Chinese assets have started to dominate the Indian Ocean region, the Trump administration is keen on fast-tracking the acquisition of the drones,” the source said.

Many commentators have said that US-India cooperation is crucial to countering an increasingly assertive China, which has been developing its military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • Håvard Larsen

    It is clear as crystal that Mattis trip to India was a failure as far as India procuring US toys. Both F-16 and F-18 will never happen. India does not see any actuall advantage investing in tech from the 70's. There are US market in India defense sector, just not in jet fighters. India is holding back on its many unrealistic plan's with LCA, etc. They are gearing up for a huge Sukhoi contract on modernizing the Heavy MKI's. And PakFa.. at the leisure of the Indian MoD Cronnies that is..

  • A.P.Singh

    What happened to engin development program under Defense incentive program?

  • A.P.Singh

    India should purchase F-18 only when full technology transfer is assured. Russia is also willing to transfer full technology in many deals. As for as single engin Aircraft is concern SAAB prosal is most suitable for India. If America wants to be good strategic partner then it should manufacture Fifth generation fighter in India or at least cooperate with FGFA program. thanks