New Delhi, Nov 10 (PTI) India and the US will co-produce infantry combat vehicles as part of defence industrial cooperation, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday with both sides setting an ambitious agenda to deepen their bilateral strategic ties in the face of China's increasing military assertiveness.
Interacting with a small group of journalists after the '2+2' ministerial dialogue, Austin said efforts are underway to ensure that India gets MQ-9B drones from the US as quickly as possible.
A joint statement on '2+2' dialogue said India and the US are setting up new liaison positions to facilitate seamless communication and cooperation between their armed forces.
India and the US are also in the process of finalising a Security of Supply Arrangement (SOSA) that will further integrate the defence industrial ecosystems of both countries while strengthening supply chain resilience, it said.
"Today, we agreed to move forward with the co-production of armored infantry vehicles. We also discussed steps that we can take to strengthen our supply chain security and integrate the provision of goods and services from US and Indian firms," Austin said.
He described the armoured vehicle project as "extremely important".
Besides Austin, the US delegation comprised Secretary of State Antony Blinken while the Indian side was headed by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The joint statement said the ministers reaffirmed the 'Roadmap for Defence Industrial Cooperation' as a catalyst for strengthening India's capabilities and to facilitate technology-sharing.
It said the ministers appreciated the commencement of negotiations for a commercial agreement between General Electric (GE) Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture GE F-414 jet engines in India.
India plans to procure 31 MQ-9B armed drones from the US at a cost of over USD 3 billion primarily to crank up its surveillance apparatus along the frontier with China as well as in the Indian Ocean region.
"Looking ahead, the ministers welcomed the progress achieved towards co-production and co-development of defence systems, noting their mutual interest to co-develop and co-produce ground mobility systems, as they bring the two countries' respective defence sectors closer together while enhancing Indian capabilities," it said.
Austin said both sides talked about the rising security challenges that are posed by China.
"We are working together on a number of things going forward. We have a common goal, a common view of the Indo-Pacific, and that is that the Indo-Pacific should remain free and open and that we should be able to sail in the international seas and fly international airspace," he said.
At the same time, Austin said the US-India relationship is not just based on China or the challenge that China presents.
"It's based upon, again, shared values..We have talked about a number of things to include not only military cooperation, but scientific cooperation, space cooperation, and those kinds of things," he said.
"We are stepping up US-Indian defense activities across multiple domains from space to undersea. And we are identifying new areas where we can work together to support each other's logistical needs. And we're making our exercises increasingly complex and realistic," he said.
"The ministers lauded continuing advances in interoperability, noting that India and the US are setting up new liaison positions to facilitate seamless communication and cooperation between their armed forces," the statement said.
"The ministers welcomed India's full membership of the multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), headquartered in Bahrain," it said.
It said the ministers welcomed further discussions to maximize the shared benefits of the Logistics and Exchange Memorandum Agreement (LEMOA) and identify reciprocal steps both countries can take to enhance the reach of their respective militaries. PTI MPB ZMN