Washington: Reflecting a new bonhomie of Indo-US defence ties, the Pentagon on Friday announced that outgoing defence secretary Ashton Carter would be visiting India next week on his final around the world trip. Slated to be in India on 8 December, Carter would travel to Japan, Bahrain, Israel, Italy and Great Britain before returning to the US on 16 December. This is for the first time that an outgoing American Defence Secretary has included India in his itinerary for the final overseas trip.

“He (Carter) will look to build on the strategic handshake between the two nations and to continue the momentum in the relationship over the past decade, including expanded defence cooperation during his time as Secretary," the Pentagon said in a statement. Carter among others would meet defence minister Manohar Parrikar.

Ahead of his visit, informed sources said India has made maritime security a significant priority and in discussion with the US for sale of Predator drones from General Atomics. The outgoing Obama administration is trying to concretise steps taken with India in the defence domain as they transition the efforts to the Trump administration, sources noted, adding that on Carter’s agenda include M777 and Predator Guardian for the Indian Navy.

Early this year, India was able to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) with support from the US. Subsequently, India was also designated a “a major defence partner" when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US and met President Barack Obama at the Oval Office this Summer.

The first opportunity for US Government to showcase this would be in the maritime domain surveillance area with the export of Predator Guardian, informed sources pointed out, adding that Obama and Carter are keen to establish a concrete legacy with India.

Vivek Lall, chief executive, US and International Strategic Development at General Atomics, are among the US leaders that have been advocating greater convergence between the US and India. It is under his leadership that, India had acquired Boeing P8I aircraft in 2009 which would complement the Guardian aircraft for maritime security.

Noting that Obama and Modi have repeatedly stressed that cooperation in the Indian Ocean is key to both countries national security interests, it is anticipated that both sides will discuss the Avenger drones for the Indian Air Force. India requires more than 100 such drones, sources said. The combined value of Guardian and Avengers could be almost equivalent to the MMRCA requirement in value.

Most militaries around the world are focusing their budgets and efforts to acquire unmanned platforms in the future.

Modi spoke to President-elect Donald Trump on 9 November to congratulate and build on the strong Indo-US relations. Both leaders are believed to be keen to take the strategic partnership to a new heights. India hopes that Trump will pursue a strategy in South Asia making India truly a priority and an anchor in the region. PTI