Lloyd Austin in Delhi to discuss defence partnership with counterpart Rajnath Singh

The US designated India as a Major Defence Partner in 2016.

India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi. AFP
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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, to discuss ways to expand their defence partnership and counter China's growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Austin arrived in Delhi on Sunday from Singapore, almost two weeks ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington.

It is his second visit to India after visiting the South Asian nation in March 2021.

“I'm returning to India to meet key leaders for discussions about strengthening our Major Defense Partnership. Together, we're advancing a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Mr Austin tweeted.

The US designated the South Asian nation as a “Major Defence Partner” in 2016, allowing India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from the US on par with its closest allies and partners.

The Pentagon had earlier said that the top official would focus his visit on advancing new defence innovation and industrial co-operation initiatives, as well as continuing efforts to expand operational relations between the US and Indian militaries.

The two leaders are expected to discuss General Electric's proposal to share technology with India for fighter jet engines.

Both are expected to discuss Delhi's plans to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones, which are capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations, at a cost of over $3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

India has spent roughly $20 billion since 2008 on US defence equipment.

Mr Austin’s visit is seen as crucial following the Shangri-La Dialogue – an annual forum bringing together top defence officials, diplomats and leaders.

The top defence official at the meeting said that the US remained committed to a shared vision of freedom, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific) and pledged to support allies and partners in the region “as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying”, in a thinly-veiled dig at Beijing.

The US and its allies have been competing against China’s growing influence in the region with both nations boosting their military activity and arms build-up in the Asia Pacific.

China’s growing influence has been a concern for India following a border dispute with the nuclear-armed nation.

Diplomatic relations between the countries have remained frosty since 2020 after at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed after clashes at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley along the Line of Actual Control, the un-demarcated border between China and India.

India and the US are also part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD, along with Australia and Japan with the four-nation alliance challenging China’s growing influence.

Mr Modi will be visiting Washington on June 22 following an invitation from President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. This will be his sixth visit to the US since taking over as the prime minister in 2014.

The two leaders will focus on their countries’ commitment to a free and secure Indo-Pacific region and discuss technology partnerships in defence, clean energy, space, climate change and health security.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 7:53 AM