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US keen to partner more with India on defence, wants specific pact for air force, says top Pentagon official

Visiting US Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall also flags American concerns about Make in India programme & the challenges it poses to US companies.

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New Delhi: Noting that the trust factor between the US and India has increased, a visiting top Pentagon official Tuesday said both countries are keen on signing an agreement specific to the air forces as they look at defence technology cooperation including that for jet engines.

 However, Frank Kendall, US Secretary for Air Force, flagged American concerns over the Make in India programme of the Indian government saying that the requirement of having a larger share of products manufactured in India should be implemented in stages rather than expectation of having it all in one go. 

“The requirements of a certain percentage to be produced in India can be problematic. They can be difficult to meet as a practical matter. We need to phase in that transition. You may start with a small fraction but have a clear path to get there over a period of time,” he said.  

Responding to a question by ThePrint at a select briefing after his meetings with various stakeholders in India’s defence and security establishment, he said the US is keen to talk to India on how it can meet the country’s requirement for new fighters.

 “India has its own requirements. They should decide what kind of capabilities it needs in its fighter force. If American capabilities can meet those requirements, I think we are prepared to discuss.” 

 “There are opportunities that exist that require modification of our existing fighters that might be suitable for India. We are very keen to work with India on that possibility,” he said alluding to the offer by American firm Lockheed Martin for its F-21 fighters, which are an upgrade of the F-16s.

Talking about greater cooperation, he said the US and India are looking at signing the air information sharing agreement.

 “This is very general for us to be able to exchange what we are doing,” one of the American officials at the briefing chipped in.

Kendall said India and the US are also working on signing certain clauses of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), one of the three foundation agreements that was signed in 2020.  

Speaking about cooperation, he said that the US and India discussing the possibility of a jet engine technology transfer is a big step in the right direction and there are a lot of opportunities for both countries to collaborate on when it comes to artificial intelligence and space, besides emerging technology. 

 He underlined that the US is “leaning forward more than they have in the past” in terms of technology sharing. 

“There is more potential there. We are also looking forward to trying and relaxing some of our constraints,” he said.

However, he flagged the American concern over when it comes to Make in India programme. 

Kendall held meetings with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and also the team of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. 

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: US companies trying to woo IAF, but here’s why it’s never inducted an American fighter


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