NEW DELHI: In the first such top-level visit after the Biden administration took charge in Washington in January, US secretary of defence Lloyd J Austin will be in India later this month to discuss measures to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation.
Austin’s visit to India, as part of his tour of a few Indo-Pacific countries, will take place even as a summit meeting of leaders of the “Quad” countries of India, the US, Australia and Japan is also slated for this month.
The Quad countries had taken part in the 24 thedition of the top-notch `Malabar’ naval exercise in November, with the four stressing their commitment to “support a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order” in a strong strategic signal to China.
During his visit to India, Austin will hold delegation-level talks with his counterpart Rajnath Singh on the bilateral defence ties as well as discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest, with the Indo-Pacific region being a key focus area, said officials.
The visit will come at a time when India is going full steam ahead with its induction plan for the advanced S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems from Russia despite the threat of US sanctions.
The S-400 deliveries to India will begin in October this year, under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) contract inked with Russia in October 2018. All five mobile squadrons of the S-400 air defence systems will be progressively delivered by 2023.
The Biden administration is yet to clearly spell out its stand on the waiver being sought by India from the US law CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), which was enacted in 2017 to prevent countries from buying Russian weapons or Iranian oil. The US has, incidentally, imposed financial sanctions on China and Turkey for inducting the S-400 systems from Russia.
The expansive bilateral defence partnership between India and the US has seen the two ink four “foundational military pacts”, with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) being the last to be concluded in 2020.
India had earlier inked the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with the US in 2002, which was followed by the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, and then the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.
The US has also bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion just since 2007, with latest ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multirole naval helicopters and six more Apache attack choppers for $3 billion being inked last year, as was earlier reported by TOI.