Joint production to be discussed during US Air Force Secretary’s India visit

New York, Aug 18 (IANS) Joint production of aircraft and components will be discussed during US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James’ upcoming visit to New Delhi where she would take partnership of the two nations “to the next level”.

She told reporters here on Wednesday that her mission was to see “how can we deepen our partnerships” adding that co-production of aircraft can be useful militarily while boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India programme.

She was asked about cooperation between India and the US on jet fighters and jet engines that was proposed during Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to India in April and reports about the possibility of assembling Lockheed Martin’s F-16s and manufacturing Fairchild Republic Warthog-10s in India.

“I am also aware of the prime minister’s push for Make in India and the importance of creating new jobs in that sector,” she said, adding “One of the proposals you mentioned, of course, is to co-produce certain aircraft in India. So that will be an example of something that will be useful from a military standpoint and might play also into the Make in India campaign.”

James said she would be discussing with her Indian counterparts about the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) that received a boost during Carter’s visit and his meetings with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, and specifically “what are the possible outcomes of that from the Air Force perspective”.

“I will be seeking the views of my counterparts what is their opinion of the various proposals on the table, what more needs to happen to perhaps advance the ball on these proposals,” she said.

But she also added a note of caution that “perhaps some of the proposals aren’t going to fly, perhaps they are not the right proposals.”

Terrorism would also be a part of the discussion, she said.

During her visit, the top civilian Air Force official is scheduled to meet Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar and the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. She will also be speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce in India CEO Roundtable.

James is placing emphasis on US defence sales and trying to streamline the process. She acknowledged that carrying out transactions under foreign military sales (FMS) programme of the US is a slow process involving also the White House, the State Department and Congress leading to complaints from some foreign officials about delays.

She said she has introduced measures to reduce delays in the parts of the transactions where the Air Force had a role and would personally clear any logjams.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore – ASEAN nations in an area of mounting tensions with China – are also on her itinerary. She said the US believed in the right of free navigation in international spaces and would uphold it.

She said she supported the July ruling of an international arbitration court in the Hague in favour of the Philippines in its disputes with China over Beijing’s claims to areas of the South China Sea.

China has said it does not recognise the ruling and has sent air patrols around the disputed areas.

Answering a reporter’s question about President Barack Obama’s proposal to adopt a policy of not making a first strike with nuclear weapons, James candidly voiced her unease with it.

She said that she personally had questions about it and that ambiguity could have a strategic value.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

–IANS

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