Rajnath holds talks with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin

It is Secretary Austin's second visit to India

Defence bilateral talks Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin before a bilateral meeting, in New Delhi | PTI

The India-US partnership is critical for ensuring a free, open and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday after holding wide-ranging talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin.

Singh said India is looking forward to closely work with the US across various domains for capacity building and further consolidating the strategic partnership.

The US Defence Secretary arrived in New Delhi on Sunday on a two-day tour that comes over two weeks ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Washington.

"Delighted to meet my friend, @SecDef Austin in New Delhi. Our talks revolved around enhancing defence cooperation in several areas including convergence of strategic interests and enhanced security cooperation," Singh tweeted.

Ahead of the talks at the Manekshaw Centre, Secretary Austin was accorded a guard of honour.

"India-US partnership is critical for ensuring a free, open and rules-bound Indo-Pacific region. We look forward to closely work with the US across the domains for capacity building and further consolidating our strategic partnership," Singh said.

Earlier, people aware of Austin's visit said Singh and the US Defence Secretary are set to discuss the General Electric's proposal to share technology with India for fighter jet engines and New Delhi's plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones at a cost of over USD 3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc besides other issues.

India has been looking for manufacturing of jet engines in India under the framework of technology transfer to power its fighter aircraft.

In June 2016, the US designated India a "Major Defence Partner" paving way for sharing of critical military equipment and technology.

It is Secretary Austin's second visit to India. His previous trip to India was in March, 2021.

In his address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday, the US Defence Secretary said, "Our initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology with India lets us explore new ways to co-develop key defence platforms."

In a major move, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced in May last year the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation between the two countries.

The iCET is expected to forge closer linkages between the government, academia and industry of the two countries in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G and 6G, biotech, space and semiconductors.

The two countries have inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.

India and the US also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India. In October 2020, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties.

The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

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