The US is striving to become India's "first choice" in defence solutions, a top Pentagon official has said, noting that America's defence sales to the country has grown "exponentially" over the last 10 years, from nil to over USD 20 billion this year.
“Promoting acquisition and sustainment initiatives with key international partners like India remains a top priority of mine," Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M Lord said on Tuesday.
“US Defence sales to India has grown exponentially over the last 10 years, and we're striving to become India's first choice in defense solutions,” he said at the 'India Ideas Summit' organised by the US-India Business Council (US-IBC).
"This cooperation has led to closer relationships across our two governments, and it has also increased stability in the Indo Pacific region,” Lord said.
His remarks came hours after US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper highlighted the "increased" military cooperation with India and called it as "one of the most important defence relationships of the 21th century." Meanwhile, in a fact sheet, the Political-Military Affairs Bureau State Department said that defence trade with India has increased from near zero in 2008 to over USD 20 billion in 2020.
These sales support thousands of jobs in both countries and help ensure the health of both countries' defence industrial bases.
India was the first non-treaty partner to be offered Missile Technology Control Regime Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System -- the Sea Guardian UAS manufactured by General Atomics, the State Department said, adding that it continues to support advocacy for the Lockheed Martin F-21 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15EX Eagle as part of India’s future fighter aircraft acquisitions.
A potential selection of any of these platforms would enhance India's military capabilities, increase US-India military interoperability, and protect shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the state department said.
Since 2015, the United States also authorised India over USD 3 billion in defence articles via the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) processes, which licenses the export of the defence equipment, services, and related manufacturing technologies controlled under the 21 categories of the US Munitions List (USML).
In 2016, the US designated India as a Major Defense Partner. Commensurate with this designation, in 2018, India was elevated to Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier 1 status, which allows India to receive license-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the Department of Commerce, the State Department said.
When questioned about the tension between China and India, Esper said: "We are obviously monitoring the situation between India and China very closely, what's happening along the Line of Actual Control and we are very pleased to see both sides are trying to de-escalate the situation."
Terming the People's Liberation Army's activities in the region "destabilising", Esper said that it "continues its aggressive behaviour in the East and South China Seas." Adding that the "Chinese Communist Party continues to engage in systemic rule-breaking, coercion and other malign activities," he said that China's unlawful land reclamation and military exercises on and around disputed features in the South China Sea were inconsistent with the commitments made by the country in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties